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New Alzheimer's Genes Found

Gigantic Scientific Effort Discovers Clues to Treatment, Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

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"If you look at all the Alzheimer's genes we now know, we have accounted for 20% of the causal risk of Alzheimer's disease and 32% of the genetic risk," Williams tells WebMD.

One of the leaders of the U.S. consortium is Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, PhD, director of the Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"This is an unprecedented story of collaboration. The world is coming together to say, 'We are going to beat this thing,'" Pericak-Vance tells WebMD. "These are not 'possible' Alzheimer genes; they are definite and further confirmed by the European studies. These are robust findings we can take to the next level."

New Alzheimer's Genes, New Alzheimer's Treatments?

Perhaps the greatest value of the gene studies is the clues they offer to the causes of Alzheimer's. The new genes affect three important pathways:

  • Endocytosis, the process by which large molecules -- such as the amyloid precursor protein -- get into brain cells.
  • Inflammatory immune responses, which seem to go awry in Alzheimer's disease.
  • Lipid processing. The brain makes its own cholesterol. APOE -- and now a new gene called ABCA7 -- are involved in this process. Misprocessing of cholesterol could contribute to Alzheimer's, Williams speculates.

"Each one of these metabolic pathways becomes a place to look at interventions that may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease or may even result in a treatment," Theis says.

Both the U.S. and European research teams report their findings in the April 3 advance online issue of Nature Genetics.

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