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Epigenetic Breakthrough Could Strengthen Understanding of Alzheimer's Disease

Update Date: Aug 18, 2014 10:26 AM EDT

Researchers have discovered some of the strongest evidence yet that epigenetic changes in the brain has a role in Alzheimer's disease. 

Epigenetic changes affect the expression or activity of genes without changing the underlying DNA sequence. These changes are believed to be one mechanism by which the environment can interact with the genome. Epigenetic changes are potentially reversible and may hence provide targets for the development of new therapies. 

According to the study, the chemical modifications to DNA within the ANK1 gene are strongly associated with measures of neuropathology in the brain. People with more Alzheimer's disease related neuropathology in their brains had elevated levels of DNA modifications within the ANK1 gene. 

 "This is the strongest evidence yet to suggest that epigenetic changes in the brain occur in Alzheimer's disease, and offers potential hope for understanding the mechanisms involved in the onset of dementia. We don't yet know why these changes occur - it's possible that they are involved in disease onset, but they may also reflect changes induced by the disease itself," said Professor Jonathan Mill, of the University of Exeter Medical School and King's College London, in the press release.

 "It's intriguing that we find changes specifically in the regions of the brain involved in Alzheimer's disease. Future studies will focus on isolating different cell-types from the brain to see whether these changes are neuron-specific," Dr Katie Lunnon, first author on the study, from the University of Exeter Medical School, added.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. 

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