“Our study helps to identify exactly which variants of this gene may be associated with obesity and diabetes, and independently, may play a role in cognitive decline for people in middle age,” said study author Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, with the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
For the study, researchers followed 8,364 Caucasian people and 2,083 African-American people between the ages of 45 and 64, with no history of stroke, for six years. Participants were tested for four different variants of the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene. They were also given three tests that measured memory, speed of processing information and language skills.
The study found that after six years, whites who had two copies of either of two FTO variants had three times the average change in score on the verbal memory test compared to participants who did not have the gene variants. The results did not change after considering factors such as age, gender, education, diabetes, high blood pressure and body fat. There was no such association in African-Americans.
“Although the amount of change was modest, finding the genetic pathways in which these variants are involved and how they contribute to a decline in memory could help scientists develop new treatments for early prevention,”
The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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