Scientists Believe Heredity Plays Role in Cause of Alzheimer's

A new study to be published today suggests that you might not feel anxious or depressed - contrary to researchers’ longstanding assumption that such news would be emotionally devastating.

The study, led by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, is one of the first to closely examine the psychological repercussions of learning about genetic risk for a deadly disease with no cure or prevention. It found that healthy people told they carry a gene that increases risk for Alzheimer’s suffered no psychological harm during the year researchers spent following them.

The research comes amid a growing scientific debate about the value of consumer genetic tests that identify elevated risk for dozens of diseases, Boston Globe reports.

Meanwhile, the exact cause of Alzheimer's is not known, but scientists believe heredity plays a role. People with a certain gene — known as APoE4 — are believed to be three to 15 times more likely to develop the illness than other people, depending on how many copies of the gene they have. It is not, however, a sure sign someone will get the disease.

Green and colleagues carefully screened people who were children of people with Alzheimer's disease, excluding people with signs of cognitive problems or depression. The 162 participants, on average in their early 50s, received a 90-minute education session, had their blood drawn and were randomly split into two groups: two-thirds received genetic results and the rest received risk information due to gender and age, Xinhua r eports.

At the same time, people who were informed of their test results, the researchers found, did not have significantly more depression or anxiety than those who were not informed of their test results either immediately after receiving the test results or 1 year later. That was true regardless of whether they were in the subgroup of people found to carry the high-risk APOE e4 gene variant.

"Subjects were not immune to the negative implications of learning that they had an increased risk, but these feelings were not associated with clinically significant psychological distress," Green and colleagues point out, Reuters reports.