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Covid Healthline

Alzheimer’s and COVID-19 severity: A genetic link?

  • In a new study, scientists have identified a genetic link between the development of Alzheimer’s and severe COVID-19 outcomes.
  • The study also identifies the same immune system changes in both diseases.
  • Targeting specific “risk” genes could lead to future treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and COVID-19.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a syndrome where cognitive function declines progressively over time.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, over 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and doctors diagnose 10 million new cases each year. Around 60–70% of these are Alzheimer’s cases.

Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation

“While Alzheimer’s is primarily characterized by a harmful buildup of amyloid protein and tangles in the brain, there is also extensive inflammation in the brain that highlights the importance of the immune system in Alzheimer’s,” explains Dr. Dervis Salih.
Dr. Salih is a senior research associate in neurodegenerative disease at University College London (UCL).
In previous work by UCL, genetic studies revealed that different genes can alter the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These “risk genes” change how microglia, or immune cells of the brain, respond to amyloid protein and tangles.
Scientists have focused on a subpopulation of microglia cells known as interferon response microglia (IRM)Trusted Source, which increase with age and in response to amyloid proteins.
IRM cells respond to interferon proteins that the body releases to fight viral infections, such as SARS-CoV-2.
According to Dr. Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, “Fairy early in the pandemic, people with dementia emerged as a group at particular risk of severe COVID-19.”

OAS1 gene and inflammation

The current findings, published in the journal Brain, build on previous work by Dr. Salih.
The new study, led by Naciye Magusali, a doctoral candidate at UCL, focused on the genotyping of 2,547 human DNA samples. Of these, 1,313 were from people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and 1,234 were from controls without Alzheimer’s.
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