Alzheimer’s clues from a sleeping baby? Sounds a little strange… but read on. Researchers at Brown University imaged the brains of 162 healthy, sleeping babies. Out of these infants, DNA testing showed that 60 had a specific gene variant (APOE ε4) that has been linked to an increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And imaging results showed that the brains of babies with this gene variant developed differently than those without it!
Before you worry about these babies, don’t- doctors aren’t assuming that babies with this variant will develop Alzheimer’s. About 25% of the U.S. population carries the APOE ε4 variant, and not everyone who has it will develop the disease- it plays other roles in blood and brain development as well, but is not fully understood. But about 60% of people who develop Alzheimer’s have at least one copy of the gene, so looking at early brain changes in healthy babies with the variant could really help researchers understand how this gene is associated with increased risk for the disease.
Rodents are often used in Alzheimer’s studies, because their generation times are so short that an animal can be followed from birth through adulthood in a matter of months. Hopefully, with the combination of human and animal studies, researchers can use this information to learn more about the gene’s role in predisposition to Alzheimer’s.