Gene Variant Linked to Thinking Skills in Elderly

Discovery may lead to new treatments for age-related memory loss, research suggests

MONDAY, April 19, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A gene variant that may help protect memory and thinking skills in elderly people has been identified by U.S. researchers.

Their study included 2,858 white and black volunteers, aged 70 to 79, whose DNA was analyzed for the Val and Met variants of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which affects thinking skills.

The participants were also given tests to measure language, concentration, memory, attention, response time and the ability to judge sights and objects.

After eight years of follow-up, those with the Met variant of the COMT gene showed greater decline in thinking skills, while those with the Val variant appeared to have a protective effect. Whites with the Val variant scored 33 percent better on the cognitive skills tests over time than those without the variant. Blacks with the Val variant scored 45 percent better over time than those without the variant, the researchers found.

The study findings are published in the April 20 issue of the journal Neurology.

"This finding is interesting because in younger people, the Val genotype has been shown to have a detrimental effect. But in our study of older people, the reverse was true," study author Alexandra Fiocco, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.

"Finding connections between this gene, its variants and cognitive function may help scientists find new treatments for the prevention of cognitive decline," Fiocco added.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about age-related memory loss.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, April 19, 2010
Consumer News