American researchers have discovered a gene variant which helps to slow age-related cognitive decline and could help prevent dementia.
Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York say drugs which mimic the gene are already under development.
The vice chair of the college’s Department of Neurology, Dr Richard Lipton said that most research on the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease focuses on the risk factors.
“We reversed this approach,” he said, “and instead focused on a genetic factor that protects against age-related illnesses, including both memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dr Lipton and his colleagues first identified the cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) gene variant as a promoter of longevity in a 2003 study.
In the latest research, they examined over 500 participants in the longitudinal Einstein Aging Study to see if the gene was associated with reduced cognitive decline.
The older people involved in the study were followed for an average of four years and tested annually to assess their rates of cognitive decline and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
The results revealed that people with two copies of the longevity variant of CETP had less memory decline and a lower risk of developing dementia.
“More specifically, those participants who carried two copies of the favorable CETP variant had a 70 percent reduction in their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared with participants who carried no copies of this gene variant,” said Dr Lipton’s colleague, Dr Amy Sanders.
The gene variant at the centre of the study impedes the function of CETP and drugs are being developed to duplicate this effect.
The findings on the “longevity gene” were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.