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2008 Grants - Honig
Changes in Telomere Length and the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
Lawrence S. Honig, M.D., Ph.D.
Columbia University Medical Center
New York, New York
2008 Investigator-Initiated Research Grant
Aging is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. However, the disease affects people at very different ages. These differences may be due to a variety of biological or environmental factors. Recent studies have found that genetic differences, including differences in the lengths of telomeres (end regions of chromosomes), may play a significant role in aging and the onset of Alzheimer's.
In previous research, Lawrence S. Honig, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues have found that people at greater risk for dementia have shorter telomeres in the DNA (genetic code) for their white blood cells. These cells play an important role in the body's immune system. However, scientists do not know the precise relationship between telomere length and dementia. Nor do scientists know whether telomere length is a stable condition within a particular individual, or whether significant changes occur over time.
For this proposed grant, Dr. Honig and colleagues will collect DNA data from a large clinical study group. Participants in this group have a variety of dementia types. The researchers hope to identify numerous correlations between telomere length and dementia. For example, they will compare multiple DNA samples from particular individuals to see if telomere lengths shorten over time and whether the rate of telomere shortening relates to the onset or progression of dementia. Dr. Honig's team will also compare the telomere lengths of people with early-onset Alzheimer's disease and late-onset Alzheimer's. The researchers hypothesize that DNA from people with early-onset Alzheimer's should show faster telomere shortening than the DNA from people with late-onset Alzheimer's.
Results of this effort could shed new light on the genetic factors underlying Alzheimer's disease. These findings could open up a new therapeutic avenue for diagnosing the disease.