Research team identifies human 'memory gene'

Kibra plays an important role in memory performance

Phoenix, AZ, October 19, 2006 -- Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) today announced the discovery of a gene that plays a significant role in memory performance in humans. The findings, reported by TGen and research colleagues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, Banner Alzheimer's Institute, and Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, appear in the October 20 issue of Science. The study details how researchers associated memory performance with a gene called Kibra in over 1,000 individuals --both young and old-- from Switzerland and Arizona. This study is the first to describe scanning the human genetic blueprint at over 500,000 positions to identify cognitive differences between humans.

"Using the latest whole-genome association technologies, we have shed light on the fundamental biological process of human memory performance," said Dr. Dietrich Stephan, Director of TGen's Neurogenomics Division and a senior author of the paper. "The capacity to remember is a defining feature of humans and we can now use this new understanding to develop drugs that will improve memory function."

Researchers at the University of Zurich, collaborating with colleagues at Arizona's Banner Alzheimer's Institute, Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, and the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium, collected DNA samples from cognitively healthy people and measured memory performance. TGen researchers screened the collected DNA samples using the whole-genome microarray technology. Researchers then combined the scan data with the memory performance test results and found a connection between Kibra and memory.

According to the study's lead author, Dr. Andreas Papassotiropoulos, professor at the University of Zurich, "The link between Kibra and memory could lead to new treatments for memory loss and possibly help improve memory in patients with memory disorders such as Alzheimer's disease."

Not only did the research team identify that the Kibra gene was associated with memory performance, but they also showed that the gene is turned on in the hippocampus, a brain region known to be critical to memory function.

"Using sophisticated functional brain imaging techniques, we showed that individuals who had a version of the gene that is related to poorer memory potential had to tax their brains harder to remember the same amount of information," said Dr. Dominique de Quervain, professor at the University of Zurich.

"Researchers now have enough of the 'letters' to read the 'genetic book of life' with unprecedented power," said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute and one of the study investigators. "We're excited about the chance to identify a gene that accounts for some of variation in normal human memory and to use this information in the discovery of promising new memory-enhancing treatments."

Until now, researchers did not have access to the high-density technology to examine the genetic components associated with memory performance. The team at TGen used Affymetrix Human Mapping 500K Arrays to simultaneously analyze 500,000 genetic markers from the people who were tested. They made the memory discovery by comparing the genetic blueprint of people with good memory to people with poor memory; memory performance was based on a series of gold-standard tests for all individuals. The researchers then validated their discovery by replicating the Kibra gene finding in two separate and distinct groups of subjects.

"This memory study is a perfect example of how the use of advanced technologies in human genetics yields fundamental discoveries," said Dr. Stephen P.A. Fodor, Chairman and CEO at Affymetrix, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based manufacturer of the technology.

The impact of the study is that it gives the research community a new and important handhold into truly understanding the process of memory. The ramifications of this report are ultimately developing new and effective medicines that can combat memory loss, and that might also help improve memory in people with memory disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

The team has already begun working on new drugs to restore memory function in age-related memory loss and diseases that have a memory loss component.

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About TGen The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is focused on developing earlier diagnostics and smarter treatments. Translational genomics research is a relatively new field employing innovative advances arising from the Human Genome Project and applying them to the development of diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases. TGen's research is based on personalized medicine and the institute plans to accomplish its goals through robust and disease-focused research.

About the University of Zurich The University of Zurich is the largest university in Switzerland with more than 20000 students and more than 4000 academic, administrative and technical staff. Founded in 1833, it is organized in 7 faculties (Medicine, Science, Arts, Veterinary Medicine, Theology, Law, Economics) and proud to have hosted 12 Nobel Prize Laureates since 1901. One of the main foci of the University of Zurich is related to basic, preclinical and clinical neuroscience research.

About Banner Alzheimer's Institute The Banner Alzheimer's Institute's (BAI) mission is to end Alzheimer's disease without losing a generation, set a new standard of care for patients and families, and forge a model of collaboration in biomedical research. Memory test scores and genetic samples from a BAI and Mayo Clinic Arizona study were used to confirm the association between the Kibra gene and differences in normal human memory. This study was supported by the National Intitute of Mental Health, the National Intitute on Aging and the state of Arizona.

About Affymetrix Affymetrix Inc. (Nasdaq:AFFX) GeneChip® technology has become the industry standard in molecular biology research. Affymetrix scientists invented the world's first high-density microarray in 1989 and began selling the first commercial microarray in 1994. Today, the company's technology is used by the world's top pharmaceutical, diagnostic and biotechnology companies as well as leading academic, government and not-for-profit research institutes. More than 1,400 systems have been installed around the world and more than 7,000 peer-reviewed papers have been published using the technology. Affymetrix' patented photolithographic manufacturing process provides the most information capacity available today on an array, enabling researchers to use a whole-genome approach to analyzing the relationship between genetics and health. Affymetrix is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., with manufacturing facilities in Sacramento, Calif., and Bedford, Mass. The company maintains important sales and marketing operations in Europe and Asia and has about 1,100 employees worldwide. For more information about Affymetrix, please visit the company's website at www.affymetrix.com.

About the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium The Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium (AAC) capitalizes on the complementary resources of its eight member institutions to promote the scientific understanding and early detection of Alzheimer's disease and find effective disease-stopping and prevention therapies. The AAC is comprised of both the NIA-funded Arizona Disease Core Center (ADCC) and the state-funded Arizona Alzheimer's Research Center (AARC). The AAC's member research institutions include Arizona State University, the Banner Alzheimer's Institute, the Barrow Neurological Institute, Mayo Clinic Arizona, the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Healthcare System, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona.

Media Contact:
Amy Erickson
TGen
(602) 343-8522
aerickson@tgen.org

Sylvia Läng
University of Zurich
unicommunication
+41 44 634-4425


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