People who carry a mutated gene linked to longer lifespan have extra tissue in part of the brain that seems to protect them against mental decline in old age.
The finding has shed light on a biological pathway that researchers now hope to turn into a therapy that slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Brain scans of more than 400 healthy men and women aged 53 and over found that those who carried a single copy of a particular gene variant had a larger brain region that deals with planning and decision making.
Further tests on the group found that those with an enlarged right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC), as the brain region is known, fared better on a series of mental tasks.
About one in five people inherits a single copy of the gene variant, or allele, known as KL-VS, which improves heart and kidney function, and on average adds about three years to human lifespan, according to Dena Dubal, a neurologist at University of California, San Francisco.
Her latest work suggests that the same genetic mutation has broader effects on the brain. While having a larger rDLPFC accounted for only 12 percent of the improvement in people’s mental test scores, Dubal suspects the gene alters the brain in other ways, perhaps by improving the connections that form between neurons.
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