Men lacking a Y chromosome in their white blood cells are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s, according to the latest data
Particular mutations can accumulate with age, and one curious variety is the loss of the Y chromosome in the blood cells of up to 17% of older men – particularly in those who smoke. Red blood cells have no cell nucleus, so this feature is only observed in white blood cell types.
The loss of the Y chromosome throughout life is an established risk factor for cancer, but for the new study researchers analysed over 3000 men from 3 long term studies, to observe the effect on Alzheimer’s disease prevalence. Those with the largest percentage of blood cells devoid of the Y chromosome were found to have a higher risk of the crippling disease.
“Having loss of Y is not 100 percent predictive that you will have either cancer or Alzheimer’s. But in the future, loss of Y in blood cells can become a new biomarker for disease risk and perhaps evaluation can make a difference in detecting and treating problems early”
The Y chromosome isn’t just involved in sex determination and male development, it also includes a range of other genes too. Out of the studies, those aged 70 and older showed up to 15.4% loss, while those under 70 had up to 4.1%. Aside from age, when the patient’s lifestyles were compared smoking emerged as an additional contributing factor to this chromosome loss.
At the moment it’s not clear whether this is a cause or effect of other processes going on in the body, but considering the loss occurs in immune cells, it may be that it compromises immune function somehow – increasing both cancer and dementia risk.
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