Memory, Aging and the Brain: A Festschrift in Honour of Lars-Göran Nilsson

By Lars Bäckman; Lars Nyberg | Go to book overview

16
Imaging genomics:
Brain alterations associated with
the APOE genotype

Johanna Lind and Lars Nyberg


Introduction

Traditionally, most neuroscience research has focused on universal features. Neuroimaging is no exception. The majority of studies until now have aimed at mapping common brain characteristics that are shared by a large population. However, as evidenced by a growing trend in the research literature, more recent neuroimaging studies have shifted focus to also pay attention to individual variability and dynamic variation. For instance, recent results have revealed substantial inter-individual variance in how the brain processes various cognitive tasks (Grabner et al., 2007; Hariri et al., 2003) or emotions (Hamann & Canli, 2004), as well as individual differences in brain development (Bengtsson et al., 2005) and aging (Cabeza, Anderson, Locantore, & McIntosh, 2002; Persson et al., 2006b; Raz et al., 2005). This shift in attention – from more general characteristics towards individual variance – can probably be seen as a natural next step after the successful mapping project, but it should also be ascribed to rapid advances in non-invasive brain imaging techniques, as well as to recent insights into the human genome and genetic variation (International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2001; Venter et al., 2001).

Although environmental factors (e.g., intensive learning and physical training) have also been acknowledged (Bengtsson et al., 2005; Colcombe et al., 2006), most studies focusing on individual variance have emphasized genetic variation as the central determinant (Plomin, Owen, & McGuffin, 1994; Thompson et al., 2001; Winterer & Goldman, 2003). In contrast to traditional neuroscience research, inter-individual variance has always been a central topic of genetics, with particular focus on so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Genes, or DNA, are composed of nucleotide sequences (A-C-T-G) of various lengths. SNPs occur when a single nucleotide in the genome differs between members of a species (or between paired chromosomes in an individual). For example, a certain proportion of the population may have a C in the same position as others have a T (Figure 16.1). About 10 million SNPs (representing less than 1% of the total human DNA sequence) are believed to characterize the genetic diversity in

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