• August 15, 2014

    Two new NIH-supported studies have shown that a person’s epigenome—the chemical modifications, or marks, on our DNA that turn gene activity on and off—may influence Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in the brain.  The two groups of researchers examined brain tissue donated by volunteers with Alzheimer’s and those free of the disease and linked a specific epigenome marker, DNA methylation, with Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain. Because the epigenome can be affected by lifestyle and the environment, these findings may offer new targets for therapies to delay, prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease.

    The independently-run, epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) reported online in Nature Neuroscience on August 17, 2014, were led by: Philip L. De Jager, M.D., Ph.D., Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, in collaboration with co-author David Bennett, Ph.D., Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; and by Jonathan Mill, Ph.D., of the University of Exeter Medical School and King’s College London, in collaboration with colleagues in the United Kingdom and United States.  

    Because the epigenome determines gene expression—that is, which genes are active and what proteins they produce—it can impact health and longevity. These new studies show for the first time that DNA methylation may impact specific gene regions, several of which are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease risk, onset and progression.

    • Dr. De Jager’s team analyzed samples from 708 donated brains from the Religious Orders Study and Rush Memory and Aging Project led by Dr. Bennett. They found that greater methylation levels correlated with Alzheimer's disease in 71 of the 415,848 markers analyzed. The 71 markers were found in the ANK1 and RHBDF2 genes, as well as in ABCA7 and BIN1 genes (two known Alzheimer’s risk variants.) They also identified nearby genes with altered expression that may be related to Alzheimer’s: ANK1, CDH23, DIP2A, RHBDF2, RPL13, RNF34, SERPINF1 and SERPINF2. This work was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH. 
    • Dr. Mill’s team analyzed brain tissue from nearly 300 donated brains in the U.S. and U.K. They linked higher levels of DNA methylation in the ANK1 gene to greater levels of Alzheimer’s pathology, especially in brain regions known to be susceptible to the disease. This research was primarily funded by the NIH Epigenomics Roadmap Initiative, which seeks to accelerate research into the relatively new and fast-developing area of epigenetics. NIA also provided support.


    De Jager PL., et al. Alzheimer's disease: early alterations in brain DNA methylation at ANK1, BIN1, RHBDF2 and other loci. Nature Neuroscience, published online Aug. 17, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nn.3786

    Lunnon K., et al. Methylomic profiling implicates cortical deregulation of ANK1 in Alzheimer's disease. Nature Neuroscience, published online Aug. 17, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nn.3782  

  • August 15, 2014

    Preliminary findings from a study by National Institute on Aging (NIA) scientists and colleagues showed that a blood test for Alzheimer’s-related proteins may accurately predict who might be at risk for the disease years before symptoms develop. The test measured the levels of several tau and amyloid proteins—the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease—in exosomes, microscopic organelles shed by brain cells.

    The study by Dimitrios Kapogiannis, Ph.D., and Edward Goetzl, M.D., both of the NIA Intramural Research Program, Baltimore, and researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; University of Kentucky, Lexington; Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Rochester, N.Y., appeared online in the August 15, 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The work was funded by NIA, the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and Nanosomix, Inc.

    Compared to those free of the disorder, the blood test showed people with Alzheimer’s had higher elevations of three proteins (p-5396-tau, p-181 tau, and Ab42) in exosomes. The test was 96 percent accurate in distinguishing between these two groups. Significantly, the investigators also found elevated levels of these proteins in blood samples collected from cognitively healthy older people who later developed dementia within one to ten years.

    While this case-controlled study needs to be replicated, it offers intriguing insights into novel ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages. The work was funded by NIA, the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and Nanosomix, Inc.

    Reference: Fiandaca MS, et al. Identification of pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease by a profile of pathogenic proteins in neurally-derived blood exosomes: a case-control study. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

  • August 13, 2014

    Cartoon of four people in conversation.

    Chronic inflammation increases with aging, and it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and cancer, as well as frailty and disability. The NIA is offering new funding for research on chronic inflammation. If you study inflammation, please read about this grant opportunity and consider applying.

    “We are offering this funding opportunity to encourage research on the effect of chronic low-grade inflammation on functional outcomes in older people,” says Dr. Barbara Radziszewska, Program Officer in the Clinical Trials Branch of the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. The new project is being offered through the U01 mechanism, and more information about that mechanism is available in the blog post. The deadline for the letter of intent is September 8, 2014.

    Read the full blog post: Funding for research on inflammation

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • August 4, 2014

    Physical activity may help prevent atrophy of the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory that often shrinks in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study that looked at the rate of atrophy over 18 months in cognitively normal older adults suggests that physical activity may help prevent or delay this Alzheimer’s-related change.

    The NIA-funded study by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic’s Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging is the first to show the protective effects physical activity may have on the hippocampus in older adults at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s. It also adds to past findings that physical activity, from gardening to walking to structured exercise programs, may benefit cognitive function in older adults.

    Researchers studied 97 cognitively normal adults, age 65 to 89, some of whom had a family history of dementia. They were divided into four groups based on their self-reported levels of physical activity (low or high) and the presence or absence of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) ɛ4 gene form, the strongest known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with low physical activity said they walked or did other low-intensity activities on 2 or fewer days per week; those with high activity said they engaged in moderate or vigorous activity, such as brisk walking or swimming, on 3 or more days per week.

    All participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to measure the size of the hippocampus—a part of the brain that shrinks as Alzheimer’s progresses—and other brain structures, as well as neurobehavioral testing to measure cognition and daily functioning. MRI scans were done at the beginning of the study and after 18 months. At the study end, researchers found the size of the hippocampus decreased by 3 percent in the group with high genetic risk and low physical activity. Hippocampal size remained stable in the group with low genetic risk and in participants with high genetic risk/high physical activity. Physical activity did not appear to affect several other brain areas, including the amygdala, thalamus, and cortical white matter.

    While promising, more research is needed to confirm these findings. Researchers want to learn how physical activity influences hippocampal atrophy in people at high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s. Animal studies suggest several possibilities, including the impact of physical activity on cholinergic function, brain inflammation, and cerebral blood flow.

    Reference: Rao S, et al. Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. April 2014;6:61.

  • July 31, 2014
    Drs. Mendoza and Payton
    Drs. Mendoza and Payton

    Jackson, Mississippi -- Men’s Health month is celebrated nationally every June by many offerings of health screenings, health fairs and outreach activities. Under the direction of Dr. Marinelle Payton, Jackson State University (JSU) is in its sixth year of celebrating Men’s Health month by holding its annual “Men’s Health and Healthcare Conference." Dr. Payton directs the JSU Center for Excellence on Minority Health and Health Disparities and is the Principal Investigator for the JSU Institute for Epidemiology and Health Services Research. “The purpose of the annual Men’s Health and Healthcare conferences is to provide a forum to educate and empower men to take a proactive approach to improve the quality of their lives. The conferences are designed to address major issues and diseases facing men.”

    This year Dr. Sheon H. Mendoza, internal medicine physican of St. Domincs Hospital in Jackson, served as the opening speaker. Dr. Mendoza provided meeting participants with strategies to best interact with men for protecting health. ““We all can play a role in identifying correctable men's health problems in our everyday lives if we learn what to look for. I used my time to teach people how to spot potential health problems in casual situations.”

    Dr. Hill at a podium at Jackson State University
    Dr. Hill speaking at the conference

    NIA contributed to the success of this year’s conference. Dr. Carl V. Hill, Director of NIA’s Office of Special Populations served as keynote speaker for the luncheon meeting held at the Jackson Convention Complex. “It was great to visit Jackson State University and speak with community members, graduate students and faculty that have a real passion for improving the health of men in Mississippi. We hope to continue our collaboration with Jackson State by motivating faculty to apply for the Butler Williams Scholars Program and working specifically with Jackson State’s Center for Excellence in Minority Health and Health Disparities.”

    Hill used his keynote address to point out men’s health behaviors as a nexus for health status and that for some marginalized men, these behaviors may be viewed as contextualized coping. He emphasized the importance of gainful employment and effective social networks for protecting men’s health and addressing related health disparities.

  • July 30, 2014

    Cartoon of four people in conversation.

    International collaboration is vital to advancing Alzheimer’s disease research, from genetics to biomarkers to translational research.

    In a new blog post, Dr. Neil Buckholtz, Director of the Division of Neuroscience at NIA, speaks about his experience at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2014 in Copenhagen. “I was pleased to witness firsthand the intense commitment among scientists worldwide to find solutions to this devastating disease,” says Dr. Buckholtz. “Investigators from 75 different countries shared recent findings and explored ways to overcome the challenges of finding ways to treat or prevent this complex disease.”

    Read the full blog post: Funding for Alzheimer’s disease research: here’s the latest

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • July 23, 2014

    Cartoon of four people in conversation.

    New funding for health disparities research has just been announced by the National Institute on Aging. This funding will add health disparities projects and researchers to existing NIA grants. Grad students, postdocs, and junior faculty members with appropriate, rigorous projects can work with funded investigators to take advantage of this research funding opportunity.

    Carl Hill, Director of the NIA Office Special Populations, explains the initiative in a new blog post. “Health disparities are differences in the incidence and prevalence of disease, mortality, burden of diseases, and life expectancy that exist between population groups in the U.S.,” he writes. “These differences are associated with a broad array of factors that influence health.” This new funding is in addition to NIA’s longstanding diversity supplement program.

    Read the full blog post: New grant money for health disparities research

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • July 16, 2014

    Cartoon of four people in conversation.

    Women of color continue to face many challenges in science. Too often, they experience covert or overt racism and sexism in science classrooms and in research workplaces. In a new blog post, Marie Bernard, Deputy Director at the National Institute on Aging, relates how her own experiences encouraged her to get involved in the Women of Color Research Network at NIH.

    “WoCRn stimulates the kinds of support that made the difference in my career,” Bernard says, “It goes further, not only providing the opportunity to connect with mentors and peers, but also making resources readily known that may assist with career advancement.” WoCRN is for women of color in research, for people mentoring these women, and for people who value diversity in science, and Dr. Bernard encourages scientists to consider joining.

    Read the full blog post: Join the Women of Color Research Network

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • July 11, 2014

    Cartoon of four people in conversation.

    Research shows that older adults who are active have a lower risk of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity, depression, and some cancers than their less fit peers.

    With leading experts on aging, exercise, and motivation, the NIA developed Go4Life, a health campaign encouraging older adults to make physical activity part of their daily lives. Dr. Chhanda Dutta of the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology, discusses the details in a new blog post, emphasizing, “If you do research with older adults or on senior wellness and health education programs, you might be especially interested in the details of our campaign.”

    Read the full blog post: Go4Life: the NIA health education campaign

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • July 7, 2014

    2013-2014 NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report Available Online

    A new online report provides an easy-to-read overview of recent National Institutes of Health-funded Alzheimer’s disease research advances and new initiatives. Issued by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the NIH, the annual report--2013-2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: Insights and Challenges--discusses research momentum under the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, describes new investments and research priorities, and summarizes research advances in several areas:

    • Understanding the biology of Alzheimer’s and the aging brain
    • Identifying genetic influences on risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s, the most common form
    • Detecting the earliest Alzheimer’s-related brain changes, including further development of biomarkers to track the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s
    • Understanding gender and racial differences in the impact of Alzheimer’s
    • Stepping up translational research that enables the design and testing of new drugs
    • Testing in clinical trials potential new therapies to prevent, delay, or treat Alzheimer’s
    • Finding better ways to support caregivers

    Other features include a video introduction by NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes, a primer on Alzheimer’s disease and the brain, tables listing NIA-funded clinical trials, and videos that highlight promising areas of research.