Cognitive performance influenced by gene for prion protein

Cognitive abilities are influenced by an interplay of genes and environment. With regard to the genetic component, multiple genes are assumed to be responsible for interindividual variation in cognitive abilities. Despite tremulous progress in molecular genetics, little is known about specific genes that contribute to this complex behavior. In an attempt to further delineate the genetic component of cognitive abilities, the authors investigated the relationship between a genetic variation in the prion protein and variations in cognitive abilities in 335 healthy volunteers. The main result is that a common variation in the prion protein gene is associated with cognitive abilities in our sample of healthy volunteers. These findings are further strengthened by the observation that the effect occurs in a gene dose dependent manner. The effect of this variation accounted for 2.7% of the total variability in cognitive abilities, further strengthening the assumption that many genetic variations with only a small effect influence human cognitive abilities. The mechanisms by which the prion protein might actually act on cognitive performance are unclear, but several lines of evidence suggest that this protein is involved in neuroprotection. To the authors’ knowledge, this is one of the first reports on the influence of a common genetic variation on individual differences of cognitive abilities in healthy individuals. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized, that replications of our findings are needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.

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