A genetic variation that increases the size of cholesterol particles in the blood is known to help people live into their 90s. New research suggests this “longevity” gene also protects memories and the ability to think and learn new information.
The study, published in the December 26, 2006, issue of Neurology, posits the larger cholesterol particles do not lodge, or build-up as easily in blood vessels reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Researchers examined 158 people of Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jewish descent, who were 95 years old or older. Those who had the gene variant were twice as likely to have good brain function compared to those who did not have the gene variant.
The researchers also validated these findings in a group of 124 Ashkenazi Jews who were between age 75 and 85 and found similar results.
“It’s possible that this gene variant also protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Nir Barzilai, MD, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY.
Barzilai noted that many studies have identified risk factors associated with developing age-related diseases.
“But little effort has been made to identify the reasons for longevity in exceptionally old people, and why they don’t develop disease. In studying these centenarians, we hope to learn what factors lessen their risk for diseases that affect the general population at a much younger age. Our results bring us a step closer to understanding the role that genes play in longevity.”
Work is being done to develop drugs that can mimic the effect of this gene variation, Barzilai said.
Approximately one in 10,000 people in the general population lives to the age of 100.
Source: American Academy of Neurology