What is the role of non-coding DNA in the development of Alzheimer’s disease? Molecular epidemiologist Mohsen Ghanbari receives a standard grant of 100,000 euros from Alzheimer Netherlands to explore this. Ghanbari: ‘I want to be able to predict dementia better’.
Although the exact cause of dementia is still unknown, certain vital genes have been identified. Genes are located on the coding DNA, which makes up about 2% of all DNA. The vast majority of DNA, about 98%, does not code for proteins. This non-coding DNA was mainly seen as junk-DNA: unnecessary. But over the past years, scientists have shown that the non-coding DNA is not as obsolete as previously thought.
Ghanbari uses the grant from Alzheimer Nederland to research this non-coding DNA, specifically miRNA’s. MiRNAs are tiny pieces of RNA that are transcribed from the non-coding DNA. By looking at the levels of certain miRNAs in older adults with dementia, Ghanbari tries to find new biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.
‘Together with my team, I want to look at the molecular pathways behind Alzheimer’s disease. If we know which biomarkers, such as miRNAs and other small metabolites (serum metabolite level), play a role, we can better predict Alzheimer’s in individuals’, says Ghanbari. Ghanbari uses data from the Rotterdam Study (see box at the bottom of this page).
Associate professor of Epidemiology and Radiology & Nuclear Medicine Daniel Bos investigates the role of vascular diseases in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. He received a grant of USD 360,000 from the American Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.
The exact role of vascular disease in brain health and the development of Alzheimer’s disease is still largely unknown. It is, however, clear that vascular disease is a risk factor for dementia.
Bos wants to gain insight into the role of arteriosclerosis – the most common vascular disease – in Alzheimer’s disease. He focuses on the intracranial vasculature and the earliest form of the disease, by using innovative imaging techniques based on population research. Like Ghanbari, he uses data from the Rotterdam Study.
Within the Rotterdam Study, Bos uses two specific subsamples in which the researchers made CT (computer tomography) scans, PET (positron emission tomography) scans, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). In these scans, arteriosclerosis and the presence and severity of amyloid-β deposits in the brain were visualised, along with the pathology and function of the smallest blood vessels in the brain.
Bos: ‘Combining these scans with the wealth of information collected on lifestyle, genetics, clinical risk factors, and the occurrence of dementia will provide crucial new insights into the role of arteriosclerosis in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Ultimately, the goal is to develop therapeutic and preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s and dementia in general by targeting arteriosclerosis with new therapies.’
About the Rotterdam Study
The Rotterdam Study (ERGO) is a large, population-based cohort study running for 30 years. In this study, the development of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease is studied prospectively. The 18,000 participants are 40 years of age or older. They regularly undergo a wide range of examinations such as physical examination, blood sampling and interviews to get a thorough impression of their health.