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Maternal History of Alzheimer’s Disease Could Determine Increased Risk

March 2, 2011

Family history is an important factor when assessing a patients’ risk for future illnesses. Recent research into Alzheimer’s disease has focused on brain imaging via positron emission tomography scans, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine overall reductions in brain regions vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Robyn A. Honea, DPhil, and colleagues from the University of Kansas School of Medicine went a different route. Not only did they analyze brain scans, they also reviewed patients’ family history of Alzheimer’s disease in order to determine if cognitively healthy patients with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease would have less gray matter volume (GMV) and the differences in GMV decreases based on family history.

Honea and colleagues studied 67 cognitively intact patients greater than or equal to 60 years of age for 2 years who had 1 first-degree relative with an onset of dementia between 60–80 years of age. Sixteen patients had a maternal history of Alzheimer’s disease, 8 had a paternal history, and 43 had neither. Throughout the study, patients were given the Mini-Mental State Examination to determine their cognition levels, and structural MRIs were used to review total gray matter, white matter, and intracranial volume.

Honea and colleagues found that those patients with a maternal history of Alzheimer’s disease had lower GMV in those brain regions most vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the prefrontal cortices (Brodmann area 45, 46, and 47) and the precuneus. The patients in the paternal history group did not have any GMV decreases. Interestingly, the researchers did not find significant changes in the GMV in the hippocampus, the region of the brain most commonly associated with volumetric changes due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers have stated that they will need to conduct a longitudinal examination of these patients in order to determine if these GMV decreases predispose the maternal history patients to more atrophy in those brain regions vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Future studies will need to examine whether maternal history also influences disease severity, rate of cognitive decline, and/or age of onset.

The full article can be found at:

Funding for this research was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Aging, the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center. (Neurology. 2011:74(2):113-120.) —Christopher Naccari


From → Geriatrics

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