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Posted: August 19, 2008

If Mom Had Alzheimer's, You Might Get It Too: Study

Men and women whose mothers had a history of Alzheimer’s disease appear to be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those without a similar maternal history with the disease.


The reason, according to medical researchers at the Center for Brain Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, is that the brains of these individuals aren’t using glucose efficiently.

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A family history of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and individuals with an affected parent have a four- to 10-fold greater risk than those with no family history. The unique contribution of this study is to highlight that the maternal risk for AD in the offspring is potentially mediated through reduced brain metabolism, says researcher Mony de Leon, director of NYU’s Center for Brain Health in New York.


The new findings by a group led by Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry at the Center for Brain Health, bolster a previous study published last year by the same group in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That preliminary study of 49 people found reductions in glucose brain metabolism among individuals with a maternal history of the disease, but not among those with a paternal history or with neither parent affected.

The new findings extend the original observations to two years. Mosconi presented her findings at the 2008 International Alzheimer’s Disease Conference in Chicago.


“Our new study shows that subjects with a mother with Alzheimer’s show similarities with Alzheimer’s patients,” says Mosconi. “They have metabolic reductions in the brain regions that are typically affected by AD, which worsen over time.”

In the latest study, the researchers studied glucose metabolism in the brain, using PET scans and a technique that labels glucose with a chemical tracer (FDG-PET) over a two-year period. Mosconi examined 66 cognitively normal individuals between 50 and 82 years old. Twenty had mothers with the disease, and nine had fathers with Alzheimer’s. The rest had no family history of the disease.


In testing, regions of the brain actively using glucose would light up on the scans. Individuals with a maternal history of the disease had progressive metabolic reductions in glucose usage, and at a much faster rate, in areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease than subjects with a paternal history or no parent with the disease.


These observations must be replicated, says Mosconi, and subjects need to be followed over longer periods of time to evaluate their risk for developing clinical symptoms.


If the maternally transmitted reduced glucose metabolism is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, then it may be of value to search for potential mechanisms of disease in the interests of developing therapies to prevent or delay the onset, adds de Leon.


It isn’t known why people with a maternal history would be at greater risk, says Mosconi. Rare genetic mutations are responsible for the early-onset form of familial Alzheimer’s, but people with a family history of late-onset disease (after age 55) don’t carry any known genes. Mosconi is now investigating whether genetic material -- the DNA carried in the mitochondria, the energy factories of cells -- which is passed only from mothers to their offspring may play a role.

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