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Genome Med. 2009 Mar 27;1(3):34. doi: 10.1186/gm34.

Genetics of Alzheimer's disease: recent advances.

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  • 1McKusick Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine and Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Broadway Research Building Room 509, 733 N Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder with high prevalence in old age. It is the most common cause of dementia, with a risk reaching 50% after the age of 85 years, and with the increasing age of the population it is one of the biggest healthcare challenges of the 21st century. Genetic variation is an important contributor to the risk for this disease, underlying an estimated heritability of about 70%. Alzheimer's genetics research in the 1990s was successful in identifying three genes accounting for most cases of early-onset disease with autosomal dominant inheritance, and one gene involved in the more common late-onset disease, which shows complex inheritance patterns. Despite the presence of significant remaining genetic contribution to the risk, the identification of genes since then has been elusive, reminiscent of most other complex disorders. In the past decade there have been significant efforts towards a systematic evaluation of the multiple genetic association studies for Alzheimer's disease, while the first genome-wide association studies are now being reported with promising results. As sample sizes grow through new collections and collaborative efforts, and as new technologies make it possible to test alternative hypotheses, it is expected that new genes involved in the disease will soon be identified and confirmed. The gene discoveries of the 1990s have taught us a lot about Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis, providing many therapeutic targets that are currently at various stages of testing for future clinical use. As new genes become known and the biological pathways leading to disease are further explored, the possibility of prevention and successful personalized treatment is becoming tangible, providing hope for the millions of patients with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.

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