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Alzheimer's Disease and Environmental Exposure to Lead: The Epidemiologic Evidence and Potential Role of Epigenetics

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Several lines of evidence indicate that the etiology of late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD) is complex, with significant contributions from both genes and environmental factors. Recent research suggests the importance of epigenetic mechanisms in defining the relationship between environmental exposures and LOAD. In epidemiologic studies of adults, cumulative lifetime lead (Pb) exposure has been associated with accelerated declines in cognition. In addition, research in animal models suggests a causal association between Pb exposure during early life, epigenetics, and LOAD. There are multiple challenges to human epidemiologic research evaluating the relationship between epigenetics, LOAD, and Pb exposure. Epidemiologic studies are not well-suited to accommodate the long latency period between exposures during early life and onset of Alzheimer's disease. There is also a lack of validated circulating epigenetics biomarkers and retrospective biomarkers of Pb exposure. Members of our research group have shown bone Pb is an accurate measurement of historical Pb exposure in adults, offering an avenue for future epidemiologic studies. However, this would not address the risk of LOAD attributable to early-life Pb exposures. Future studies that use a cohort design to measure both Pb exposure and validated epigenetic biomarkers of LOAD will be useful to clarify this important relationship.
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Keywords: Anthropometric measures; DNA methylation; Late-onset Alzheimer's disease; Pb; Pb exposure; epidemiology; epigenetics; lead exposure

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 6667 SPH Tower, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA.

Publication date: 01 June 2012

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  • Current Alzheimer Research publishes peer-reviewed frontier review and research articles on all areas of Alzheimer's disease. This multidisciplinary journal will help in understanding the neurobiology, genetics, pathogenesis, and treatment strategies of Alzheimer's disease. The journal publishes objective reviews written by experts and leaders actively engaged in research using cellular, molecular, and animal models. The journal also covers original articles on recent research in fast emerging areas of molecular diagnostics, brain imaging, drug development and discovery, and clinical aspects of Alzheimer's disease. Manuscripts are encouraged that relate to the synergistic mechanism of Alzheimer's disease with other dementia and neurodegenerative disorders. Book reviews, meeting reports and letters-to-the-editor are also published. The journal is essential reading for researchers, educators and physicians with interest in age-related dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Current Alzheimer Research provides a comprehensive 'bird's-eye view' of the current state of Alzheimer's research for neuroscientists, clinicians, health science planners, granting, caregivers and families of this devastating disease.
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