Alzheimer’s gene plays role in childhood IQ

A new research points to a correlation between this gene and intellectual abilities in children, raising questions about the protein’s role in cognition.

A new study – led by Dr. Tetyana Zayats and other researchers from the K.G. Jebsen Centre for Neuropsychiatric Disorders in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Bergen in Norway – has examined further links between APP and the development of cognitive functions in children.

“Our understanding of biological processes underlying synaptic functioning could be expanded by examining human genetics throughout the lifespan as genetic influences may be the driving force behind the stability of our cognitive functioning,” says Dr. Zayats.

Specifically, Dr. Zayats and her colleagues studied the activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (ARC), which is associated with neural plasticity – that is, the nervous system’s ability to change and adapt in time.

The researchers found that the ARC gene complex variation was strongly associated with IQ in children. Additionally, it contains the gene that encodes APP, which relates to Alzheimer’s. Intelligence, Dr. Zayats and her colleagues explain, “captures a broad scope of cognitive abilities” – which are variously defined as combinations of verbal IQ and performance IQ – “often differentiated into crystallized and fluid types.” Crystallized intelligence refers to accumulated knowledge and skills, and fluid intelligence is linked to problem-solving and the ability to identify patterns.

The researchers found that an APP-encoding gene variation was associated with fluid intelligence in children. The same variation was linked with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in the adult cohort. Additionally, analyses of the data collected from adults assessed for cognitive functioning indicated that variations in the APP-encoding gene were linked with reaction time – that is, how long we take to process information.

“This study has potential implications for our understanding of the normal function of these synaptic proteins as well as their involvement in disease,” emphasizes Dr. Zayats. In some ways, the study confirms associations suggested by previous research. For example, a correlation between intelligence and dementia had already been pointed out, and overproduction of amyloid beta had been noted in the case of people with Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome.

The researchers suggest that their study should be followed by additional research, targeting further correlations between gene variations and cognitive functions both in children and in adults.


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