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2024 Imaging Research in Alzheimer's and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases Program (IR-AND)

Genetic and environmental contributions to longitudinal tau trajectories

Can studying identical twins help identify genetic and environmental risk factors for Alzheimer’s?

Anouk den Baraber, Ph.D.
Amsterdam University Medical Center
Amsterdam, Netherlands


Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s can develop as a result of multiple factors, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle, rather than a single cause. However, the mechanisms by which these factors lead to the hallmark brain changes in Alzheimer’s, including the accumulation of the tau protein to form tau tangles, are not fully understood. Scientists have discovered that studies of identical twins, who have the exact same DNA (or genetic material), can help in our understanding of how genetic and environmental factors influence one’s lifetime risk of developing chronic diseases. 

For their studies, Dr. Anouk Den Braber and colleagues will use data from identical twins to study the genetic and environmental risk factors that contribute to tau tangle formation in Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

Dr. Den Braber and the team will recruit 80 pairs of identical twins for their study. They will measure tau tangle levels for each individual using positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans. Next, the researchers will examine differences in tau tangle accumulation and the different brain regions where tau tangles are located between each pair of twins. Lastly, the team will study the environmental factors that differ for each pair of twins and associate those factors with tau tangle levels and cognitive function.


The results of this study may help our understanding of the environmental and genetic risk factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s. If successful, the findings could also identify new biological mechanisms linked to tau tangle formation.

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