Apolipoprotein E4 Variant Associated with Improved Cognitive Function in Primitive Population with High Parasite Burden

You've likely heard about being in the right place at the wrong time, but what about having the right genes in the wrong environment? In other words, could a genetic mutation (or allele) that puts populations at risk for illnesses in one environmental setting manifest itself in positive ways in a different setting? That's the question behind a paper published online on December 28, 2016 in The FASEB Journal by several researchers including lead author Ben Trumble, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change and ASU's Center for Evolution and Medicine. The article is titled “Apolipoprotein E4 Is Associated with Improved Cognitive Function in Amazonian Forager-Horticulturalists with a High Parasite Burden"” In their work, the researchers examined how the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene might function differently in an infectious environment than in the urban industrialized settings where ApoE has mostly been examined. All ApoE proteins help mediate cholesterol metabolism, and assist in the crucial activity of transporting fatty acids to the brain. But in industrialized societies, ApoE4 variant carriers also face up to a four-fold higher risk for Alzheimer's disease and other age-related cognitive declines, as well as a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. The goal of this study, Dr. Trumble explains, was to reexamine the potentially detrimental effects of the globally-present ApoE4 allele in environmental conditions more typical of those experienced throughout our species' existence -- in this case, a community of Amazonian forager-horticulturalists called the Tsimane.
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