There May Be a Better Understanding of the APOE4 Gene in Alzheimer’s Patients
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an important month in the world of Alzheimer’s research. Anyone with a brain is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. It’s the only leading cause of death that can’t be prevented, cured or slowed, says the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 50 million people around the world are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This is why the Alzheimer’s Association is asking everyone to go purple and raise awareness this month, particularly in light of new research revealing that a gene variant believed to be a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s can predict the decline of mental capacities separate from the protein tangles that are part of the disease. This is promising news if you or a loved one are in hospice battling Alzheimer’s in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Gene Variant APOE4
The gene variant in question is known as APOE4, and it’s partly responsible for damaging the blood-brain barrier that is in place to prevent toxins from getting into the brain. The latest study into this gene variant suggests APOE4-related damage can predict cognitive decline apart from the things that are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease: the build-up of tau protein plaques.
The smallest blood vessels – whose job it is to keep the brained protected and sealed — are being threatened by this gene variant. Once that perimeter is breached, memory and cognitive function begin to suffer.
This new discovery brings new hope to Alzheimer’s patients and families – but there’s still a lot of research and testing to be done. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s right now.
This study does shine light on a possible new way to view the disease and possibly treat it in those with the APOE4 gene, taking a closer look at blood vessels and boosting their function to slow down or even stop the cognitive decline, says Science Alert.
APOE4, a variant of apolipoprotein, encodes proteins carrying cholesterol around the brain. Possessing one or two copies of APOE4 can increase the risk of the person developing late-onset Alzheimer’s, but it’s no guarantee that the person will actually develop it. In healthy brains, the tau protein transports nutrients and other supplies to the neurons. However, in brains of Alzheimer’s patients, tau will form tangles, breaking down this essential transport system.
ApoE4 apparently causes more damage than other variants because it’s inciting a much higher inflammatory response, with that inflammation, researchers think, going on to cause injury.
The research, published in Nature, is still is in infancy.
Genes and Your Risk Level
Certain genes put you in a more likely position to develop Alzheimer’s disease at some point in your life. Let’s back up a bit and take a look at what genes do. Essentially, they control the functioning of all cells in your body, with some determining basic characteristics, such as eye and hair color and others being markers for the development of certain diseases, including dementia.
Researchers know there are many genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. APOE4 is just one of them. The most common associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (after age 65) is a risk gene known as apolipoprotein E (APOE), according to the Mayo Clinic. It takes three forms:
- APOE e2: Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s (least common)
- APOE e4: Increases risk of Alzheimer’s (more common)
- APOE e3: Doesn’t affect risk of Alzheimer’s (most common)
If you get one APOE gene from mom and one from dad, you will possess two copies of that gene. If you have at least one APOE e4 gene, you boost your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease; with two APOE e4 genes, that risk elevates.
That being said, not everyone who has APOE e4 genes will fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease. And the opposite is also true: Alzheimer’s disease can occur in many people who do not possess an APOE e4 gene. That suggests that other genetic and environmental factors are at play in the development of the disease.
Alzheimer’s remains the sixth leading cause of death in this country, with 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 having it. It is predicted that by 2050, there will be 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, says Alzheimers.net. In general, the life expectancy after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is between four and eight years. The APOE4 research still has a long way to go, but it does show promise within the Alzheimer’s community.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
Here at Pathways, we offer full dementia care services and offer help for any number of issues you may be facing, from ostomy and wound care to bathing and caregiver support. We also provide advance directives, emergency planning, and tips on reducing falls. To learn more, please contact us at 888-978-1306.