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Maternal history linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk, study finds

A new study suggests that those with a maternal history of Alzheimer's exhibit higher levels of amyloid, a key biomarker.

(CN) —  Inheriting the risk of Alzheimer’s disease from your mother may significantly increase the likelihood of developing brain changes associated with the disease, according to researchers with Mass General Brigham.

The results, published Monday in JAMA Neurology, suggest that a person’s maternal versus paternal family history can influence the risk of accumulation in the brain of amyloids, a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers analyzed 4,400 cognitively unimpaired adults aged 65 to 85 using amyloid imaging. They found that those whose mothers had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease showed higher levels of amyloids.

Hyun-Sik Yang, a neurologist at Mass General Brigham and senior author of the study, collaborated with researchers from Vanderbilt and Stanford University. Together, they revisited the question of family history and Alzheimer’s risk using a larger clinical trial dataset.

“Our study found if participants had a family history on their mother’s side, a higher amyloid level was observed,” he said.

The researchers examined family histories from participants in a study aimed at preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants were asked about the onset of memory loss in their parents and whether their parents had been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or had autopsy confirmation of the condition.

“Some people decide not to pursue a formal diagnosis and attribute memory loss to age, so we focused on a memory loss and dementia phenotype,” Yang said.

The findings showed that those with maternal history of memory impairment at any age had higher amyloid levels.

Paternal history of early-onset memory impairment was also linked to increased amyloid levels, while late-onset paternal memory impairment was not.

“If your father had early onset symptoms, that is associated with elevated levels in the offspring,” said Mabel Seto, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham. “However, it doesn’t matter when your mother started developing symptoms — if she did at all, it’s associated with elevated amyloid.”

The study found these effects were not influenced by the participants' own biological sex. However, there were some limitations.

According to researchers, some participants’ parents may have died young, before showing symptoms. Additionally, social factors like access to resources and education could have affected the recognition and diagnosis of cognitive impairment.

“It’s also important to note a majority of these participants are non-Hispanic white,” Seto said. “We might not see the same effect in other races and ethnicities.”

Next, the researchers plan to expand the study to include diverse groups and examine how parental history affects cognitive decline and amyloid accumulation over time.

Reisa Sperling, co-author and principal investigator of the study, said the findings could be used soon in clinical translation.

“This work indicates that maternal inheritance of Alzheimer’s disease may be an important factor in identifying asymptomatic individuals for ongoing and future prevention trials,” she said.

Categories / Health, Science

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