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Published on: April 13, 2012
by Gates Cambridge Scholarships
Researchers have discovered the existence of a shared pathway through which multiple genes and their byproducts affect people’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
The research could be an important focus for future gene discovery and the development of targeted therapies to fight against Alzheimer’s. It has been published in the latest edition of The American Journal of Human Genetics.
The study, led by Gates Cambridge alumnus Towfique Raj  from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, explored large-scale human genome data to better understand the functions and interactions of specific locations of genes on a chromosome associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers found significant evidence of recent natural selection acting on several collections of DNA gene sequences. The findings suggest that several genes associated with susceptibility to developing Alzheimer’s Disease have evolved together, and that the proteins encoded by these genes physically interact. The researchers say these genes may be components of a shared molecular mechanism that affects AD susceptibility.
Towfique, who completed a PhD in Genetics with the help of a Gates Cambridge scholarship, says: “The AD susceptibility genes may have been under selection pressure together because of some non-AD-related event in that particular population’s history – perhaps a pathogen or metabolic or environmental challenge.
“We offer robust statistical evidence that these genes under natural selection are physically interacting, and we link in new genes that were not suspected to be part of the molecular pathway. These offer targets for further genetic work to see if they do contribute to susceptibility to Alzheimer’s.”
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