New Study Explains The Gender Gap With Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease accounts for up to 70% of dementia cases, affecting millions of people and their loved ones. This disorder was first identified in 1906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer found abnormal clumps and tau proteins in a woman's brain, according to the National Institute on Aging. The patient experienced memory loss, language impairment, and other symptoms that eventually led to her death. Today, experts agree that tau proteins and amyloid plaques, or the clumps of misfolded proteins that can form in the brain, are core features of the disease.

People over 65 are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than younger individuals, says NIA, but about 10% of sufferers get this disorder at a younger age due to genetic factors. Additionally, women have double the risk of developing dementia than men, reports BrightFocus Foundation. This could be due to hormonal and genetic differences between men and women, or other factors, such as the differences in brain composition. Some studies also suggest that neuroinflammation, a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, is more common in women. The changes that occur during menopause may play a role, too. 

Scientists can't pinpoint the exact reason Alzheimer's is more common in females, but a new study appears to shed some light on this matter. Its findings could hold the key to a potential cure. 

Ubiquitin peptidase, a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's in women

A recent study published in the journal Cell suggests that women have higher levels of ubiquitin-specific peptidase 11 (USP11), which may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer's. This enzyme is found in a cluster of genes on the X chromosome, explains the National Library of Medicine. If you were born a female, you have two X chromosomes. Males, on the other hand, have only one X chromosome and a Y chromosome, and, therefore, their USP11 levels are lower than those of a woman.

The study authors say that USP11 levels influence tau pathology in women, but not in men. Tau proteins maintain the stability of the neurons in our brains, meaning they support central nervous system function. In some cases, these proteins can form tangles that, along with beta-amyloid plaques, increase a person's susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease.

According to the above study, USP11 levels are higher in women and may promote the excessive accumulation of tau, which could lead to dementia. Scientists also found that removing this enzyme may prevent tau accumulation and hence protect females from Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative ailments. The research is still in its early stages, but if these findings are confirmed, they could lead to the development of new drugs for preventing and treating Alzheimer's in women.