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Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010 Oct;7(10):45-51.

What Psychiatrists Should Know about Genes and Alzheimer's Disease.

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Dr. Howe is Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Director, Programs in Medical Ethics, and Senior Scientist, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.


Alzheimer's disease is a devastating illness, and patients may be exceptionally concerned that they have genes that contribute to this illness, especially if there is a family history of Alzheimer's disease. This article reviews core findings regarding the genes that contribute to the early-onset (familial) and late-onset forms of Alzheimer's disease and related findings regarding the needs of psychiatrists when discussing the disease with patients. Previously, clinicians believed that patients who tested positive for the APOE gene linked to late-onset Alzheimer's disease would be harmed by this knowledge to a greater extent than those who did not know they had the gene. Thus, clinicians were strongly recommending to patients that they not have this testing. This article includes the practice-changing relevance of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which reported that a group of patients tested for the APOE gene who found out that they were positive for this gene were not significantly harmed by having acquired this knowledge.


APOE gene; Alzheimer's disease; early-onset Alzheimer's disease; familial Alzheimer's disease; genetic counseling; genetic testing; late-onset Alzheimer's disease

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