Two key Alzheimer’s risk factors — a particular gene and vascular health — impact men more than women shows a University of Alberta (U of A) study based on more than 600 adults over four decades.
The unexpected finding by U of A scientists speaks to the importance of taking differences between men and women into account when diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s, said Roger Dixon, a professor of psychology in the Faculty of Science and Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute (NMHI) , in a recent news release from the university.
Using a gene called bridging integrator 1 (BIN1) and vascular health, measured by pulse
pressure, researchers analyzed data from 623 adults — ages 53 to 97— over 44 years of
“Not just five years, but 10,15, 20 years before diagnosis, there are changes in the brain that are early signals of the disease,” said Dixon.
The study shows a sharp decline in memory for men with BIN1 genetic risk as well as poor vascular health, but not for women.
“We first confirmed that good vascular health (lower PP) was associated with higher memory level and shallower decline and males were more severely affected by worsening PP in both memory performance and longitudinal decline,” reads the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Multiple risk factors that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease but with the right data, Dixon said, researchers can track and identify who is most at risk.
“One thing a lot of researchers are doing is aiming to find those individuals who are most at risk
for Alzheimer’s disease long before they get it, because once they get it, there is not much we
can do except alleviate some of the symptoms,” he said.
Mackenzie Heal, neuroscience master’s student in the NMHI graduate program and lead author on the recent research, also noted that “memory decline was affected negatively by poor vascular health (high pulse pressure)” for everybody in the study.
But for “those with BIN1 genetic risk, even good pulse pressure couldn’t protect them from memory loss,” and “for males with BIN1 genetic risk as well as poor vascular health, the slopes were a lot steeper, showing a sharp decline in memory, while for females it did not.”
This finding is noteable also because women are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease more often than men in part because they live longer and there are other neurobiological and hormonal changes in midlife that also play a role.
Dixon added that there are “pathways lead toward Alzheimer’s disease and some lead away from it.”
“What we are doing here is finding subtypes, as defined by these risk factors, and identifying which ones are most likely to benefit from what kind of risk intervention or risk reduction intervention.”
The study, “ Bridging Integrator 1 (BIN1, rs6733839) and Sex Are Moderators of Vascular Health Predictions of Memory Aging Trajectories ,” was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease . The authors also include U of A researchers and NMHI members G. Peggy McFall, Jack H. Jhamandas and David Westaway.