Skip to content

New research suggests that genetics can influence a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and the risk may differ depending on which parent had the illness. A study of 4,400 “cognitively unimpaired” individuals found higher levels of amyloid protein plaques in the brains of those whose mother, or both parents, had Alzheimer’s compared to those whose father had the disease.

People whose mother was affected by Alzheimer’s may be at a special risk, according to a team from Mass General Brigham in Boston. “Maternal inheritance of Alzheimer’s disease may be an important factor in identifying asymptomatic individuals for ongoing and future prevention trials,” said study co-author Dr. Reisa Sperling, a neurologist at Mass General.

The study’s results were published in the journal JAMA Neurology on June 17. It used data from a clinical trial on Alzheimer’s prevention. Participants were asked about their parents’ Alzheimer’s diagnosis and when their parent’s memory declined. Sperling and colleagues then compared these responses to levels of amyloid in the participants’ brains.

The research showed that having a father with late-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms did not appear to be linked to levels of amyloid in people’s brains. However, the study found a connection between the buildup of brain plaques and having a mother with Alzheimer’s symptoms starting at any age or having a father with early-onset symptoms.

“Our study found if participants had a family history on their mother’s side, a higher amyloid level was observed,” said senior corresponding author Hyun-Sik Yang, MD, a neurologist at Mass General Brigham and Behavioral Neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 

The study’s first author, Dr. Mabel Seto, a postdoctoral research fellow in the hospital’s neurology department, added, “If your father had early-onset symptoms, it’s associated with elevated amyloid levels in the offspring. It doesn’t matter when your mother started developing symptoms – if she did at all – it’s associated with elevated amyloid.”

According to the researchers, the study found no difference between male and female participants. Parental history had the same impact on amyloid buildup regardless of gender.

“It’s also important to note a majority of these participants are non-Hispanic white,” Seto added in a Brigham news release. “We might not see the same effect in other races and ethnicities.”

You can learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and genetics at the Alzheimer’s Association.