Among people with the Alzheimer’s gene, women are at greater risk of developing tau tangles, a hallmark of the disease, than men are.
The gene variant ApoE4 is the biggest genetic predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. New research has found that women with the ApoE4 gene who are already experiencing mild cognitive decline (MCI) are more susceptible than men with ApoE4 to tau tangle accumulation in the brain. This finding comes from research presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.
Brain Scans Show Tau Tangles More Common in Women Than Men
The researchers, led by Yun Zhou at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, used PET scans to analyze the brains of 131 cognitively normal seniors and 97 seniors with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“Sex plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease risk, with females having a higher lifetime risk of developing the disease and an increased vulnerability to genetic risk factors,” said Zhou.
This, he said, is the first study to demonstrate that gender impacts the way ApoE4 gene regulates tau deposits in the memory and learning areas of the brain. However, people with the ApoE4 gene who do not have mild cognitive impairment do not appear have the same susceptibility to tau accumulation.
Tau Tangles Linked to Alzheimer’s Symptoms and Disease Progression
Recently, Being Patient interviewed Jeffrey Kordower, Ph.D., Director of Neurobiology at Rush University, about the connection between tau protein tangles and brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s patients.
According to Kordower, tau tangles are strongly linked to the severity of Alzheimer’s symptoms, while beta-amyloid plaques, another protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, are not.
“We now have the ability to clear these [beta-amyloid] plaques. But when you clear these plaques nothing happens…[But when] you look at tau tangle load versus amyloid load… the tau load is much more correlative with the cognitive dysfunction.”
Stopping the proliferation of tau tangles in the brain could lead to a stabilization of one’s symptoms, Kordower explains, while keeping them from forming in the first place may stave off the disease altogether. However, more research is needed to see if this theory holds true in ongoing clinical trials.