Yale University scientists have determined a decline in brain function is a natural consequence of aging and that genes — not environmental or lifestyle factors — are primarily to blame.
The Yale researchers, working with colleagues from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, based their conclusions on an analysis of 1,129 people — aged 18 to 83 — that showed "profound aging effects" from young adulthood to old age on mental abilities and key features of the brain's so-called white matter, tied to learning and other higher-level cognitive functions.
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The analysis also showed, for the first time, that genetic material shared among biological relatives appears to predict changes in brain function with age.
"Identification of genes associated with brain aging should improve our understanding of the biological processes that govern normal age-related decline," said John Blangero, a Texas Biomed geneticist who helped conduct the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lead researcher David Glahn, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, said the findings are particularly strong because the study involved large Mexican-American families in San Antonio, giving researchers the ability to examine genetic links to brain aging.
The investigators were able to show that one set of genes accounts for neurocognitive deterioration with age, while a second group influences the decrease in the brain's white matter.
"A key advantage of this study is that we specifically focused on large extended families and so we were able to disentangle genetic from non-genetic influences on the aging process," said Glahn.
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