Genetic factors confer risk for neuropsychiatric phenotypes, but the polygenic etiology of these phenotypes makes identification of genetic culprits challenging. An approach to this challenge is to examine the effects of genetic variation on relevant endophenotypes, such as hippocampal volume loss. A smaller hippocampus is associated with gene variants of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS), a system implicated in vascular disease. However, no studies to date have investigated longitudinally the effects of genetic variation of RAS on the hippocampus.
The authors examined the effects of polymorphisms of AGTR1, the gene encoding angiotensin-II type 1 receptor of RAS, on longitudinal hippocampal volumes of older adults. In all, 138 older adults (age ≥60 years) were followed for an average of about 4 years. The participants underwent repeated structural MRI and comprehensive neurocognitive testing, and they were genotyped for four AGTR1 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with low pairwise linkage disequilibrium values and apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype.
Genetic variants at three AGTR1 SNPs (rs2638363, rs1492103, and rs2675511) were independently associated with accelerated hippocampal volume loss over the 4-year follow-up period in the right but not left hemisphere. Intriguingly, these AGTR1 risk alleles also predicted worse episodic memory performance but were not related to other cognitive measures. Two risk variants (rs2638363 and rs12721331) interacted with the APOE4 allele to accelerate right hippocampal volume loss.
Risk genetic variants of the RAS may accelerate memory decline in older adults, an effect that may be conferred by accelerated hippocampal volume loss. Molecules involved in this system may hold promise as early therapeutic targets for late-life neuropsychiatric disorders.