Newly Evolved, Uniquely Human Gene Variants Protect Against Cognitive Decline
Many human gene variants have evolved specifically to protect older adults against neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, according to research recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We unexpectedly discovered that humans have evolved gene variants that can help protect the elderly from dementia,” said one of the study’s lead researchers. “Such genes likely evolved to preserve valuable and wise grandmothers and other elders, as well as to delay or prevent the emergence of dependent individuals who could divert resources and effort away from the care of the young.” In this first-of-its kind discovery, the research team initially focused on the gene that encodes the CD33 protein. CD33 is a receptor that projects from the surface of immune cells, where it keeps immune reactions in check, preventing “self” attack and curtailing unwanted inflammation. Previous studies have suggested that a certain form of CD33 suppresses amyloid beta peptide accumulation in the brain, which is thought to contribute to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also found human-specific variations in many other genes involved in the prevention of cognitive decline, such as APOE, a notorious risk factor for Alzheimer’s and cerebral vascular disease. However, the current study found that variants APOE2 and APOE3 seem to have evolved to protect from dementia. To read more about this study, click here.
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