Here’s how higher education might just save your brain from Alzheimer’s

A recent study conducted by Mass General Brigham researchers sheds light on the complex interplay between genetics, educational attainment and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

This study highlights that while genetics plays a role in Alzheimer’s risk, it’s just one part of the puzzle. The researchers delved into the impact of genetics and educational achievement on cognitive decline.

Their investigation involved analyzing data from 675 individuals who carry a specific mutation called PSEN1 E280A that makes them susceptible to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease [1]. People with this mutation typically experience dementia around the age of 49.

The study revealed intriguing findings regarding the role of two additional genetic factors: APOE e4 and APOE e2. Carriers of the PSEN1 E280A mutation who also had the APOE e4 mutation experienced an accelerated onset of cognitive decline [2].

In contrast, those who carried the APOE e2 mutation, known for its protective effects, experienced a delayed onset of cognitive decline.

The study also explored the connection between educational attainment and cognitive function in individuals with the PSEN1 E280A mutation, considering different APOE genotypes.

What emerged from the research is that higher educational attainment, signified by more years of education, seems to offer a shield against cognitive impairment, even in the presence of strong genetic risk factors. 

Yakeel Quiroz PhD, the corresponding author of the study and an expert in clinical neuropsychology and neuroimaging, emphasized in a Mass General Brigham release that this protective effect of education is significant.

Despite the heightened risk linked to APOE e4, the most potent genetic risk factor for sporadic Alzheimer’s, the study’s outcomes indicate that educational attainment could serve as a vital mechanism of cognitive reserve, particularly in familial Alzheimer’s disease.

The collaborative research team encompassed experts from Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Mass Eye and Ear and national and international partners.

The study underscores the intricate nature of Alzheimer’s disease and challenges the notion that genetics alone dictate one’s fate concerning cognitive decline. It suggests that educational achievement acts as a potential buffer, enhancing cognitive resilience despite genetic predisposition.

This study illuminates the multifaceted dynamics at play in Alzheimer’s risk. While genetics undoubtedly contributes, the combination of genetic factors like APOE variants interacts with educational attainment to shape the trajectory of cognitive decline.

These findings emphasize the importance of education in building cognitive reserves, providing hope that individuals at a higher genetic risk for Alzheimer’s can still take steps to mitigate its impact.

Ultimately, this research encourages a holistic approach to understanding and addressing Alzheimer’s disease, highlighting the potential of education as a powerful tool in promoting cognitive well-being.

Explore further insights into this intriguing study in the journal Nature Communications.


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