According to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio and Yale University, a decline in brain function in normal aging is influenced by genes. John Blangero, Ph.D., a Texas Biomed geneticist and the senior author of the current article, notes, “Identification of genes associated with brain aging should improve our understanding of the biological processes that govern normal age-related decline.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Nov. 4, 2013 issue). The first author is David Glahn, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.
The researchers where able to document aging effects from young adults to old age in large pedigrees that included 1,129 people aged 18 to 83. They measured cognitive ability and white matter. Researchers note, white matter dynamically affects how the brain learns and functions. They report that genes shared amongst biological relatives seems to predict observed changes in brain function with age.
Volunteers were enrolled in the Genetics of Brain Structure and Function Study and participants were drawn from large Mexican American families in San Antonio. Peter Fox, M.D. directed the brain imaging studies at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Research Imaging Institute.
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Blangero notes, “The use of large human pedigrees provides a powerful resource for measuring how genetic factors change with age”. The researchers used sophisticated analysis to demonstrate a heritable basis for cognitive loss with age that could be attributed to genetic factors. Also, loss of white matter integrity with age was influenced by genes. Furthermore, they found that different sets of genes were responsible for these two aging processes (loss of cognition and white matter deterioration).
Glahn notes that they had an advantage in that they focused on large extended families so they were able to pull apart genetic from non-genetic impacts on the aging process.