Our susceptibility to disease depends both on the genes that we inherit from our parents and on our lifetime experiences. These two components — nature and nurture — seem to affect very different processes in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature.
The study was carried out by an interdisciplinary team at MIT and the Broad Institute, and was co-led by Li-Huei Tsai, the Picower Professor at MIT and director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and Manolis Kellis, a professor in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
The researchers analyzed changes that occur in genes and in regions that regulate genes as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, using a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease that Tsai’s lab originally developed several years ago. The mice were engineered so that the gene for a protein called p25 can be overstimulated in the brain, which prompts the mice to develop symptoms very similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
“These programmable mice allowed us to study, for the first time, the changes occurring during early stages of the disease, before symptoms even begin to appear,” Tsai says. “We could then compare them to changes in later stages of the disease, when neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment are evident.”