Update: Why women have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease than men – could genes play a role?

Earlier this year, Dementia News wrote about an American report which stated that women over 65 were at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to men – read the article. Dementia News investigated the reasons why this might be the case, and discovered three main hypotheses. However, new findings have now added a fourth hypothesis into the mix; this one to do with genetics.

Dementia News has written previously about a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease known as APO -E4 allele – read the article here. It is suggested that those who carry the APO- E4 allele are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease but just what ’greater risk’ means is still being discussed by scientists all over the world.

The new findings published in the Journal Annals of Neurology looked into the medical histories of 11,654 people aged between 60-80 years old from data collected between 2005 and 2013, all of whom were taking part in Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The researchers restricted analysis to a total of 8,084 participants to only include those who had returned for at least one follow up consultation after at least 12 months. At initial and follow up consultation, biomarkers were measured (including amyloid beta and tau proteins), a Mini Mental State Examination was performed and a test undertaken to assess whether they carried the APO-E4 allele.

What the researchers didn’t expect to find was a marked difference between men and women:

MEN who were positive carriers for the APOE-4 allele but had no brain impairments at their initial consultation did not have a significantly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease at their next consultation.

WOMEN who were positive carriers for the APOE-4 allele but had no brain impairments at their initial consultation were almost twice as likely to either progress to a mild cognitive impairment or even Alzheimer’s disease compared to those women who did not carry this allele.

Dr Michael Greicius, Head of the Stanford Center for Memory Disorders and one of the study's authors said in a report:

"We believe that there is an increased risk for Alzheimer's in women, and it may now be that APO-E4 is playing a sizable role in this".

The researchers are now considering wither there may be different approaches required for men and women in the development of therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer’s disease. However, further research is required to clarify these results.



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