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The effect of pregnancy on brain aging in women

Paula Duarte-Guterman.

The project

Paula Duarte-Guterman received a research grant in 2017 to investigate some of the possible reasons that women experience greater cognitive decline than men. She is looking at two angles: past reproductive history, and females that carry the APOE4 gene – a gene known to be associated with Alzheimer’s. Using animal models that express the human form of APOE4, she will study female rats with or without APOE4 and with or without the experience of pregnancy and motherhood. Dr. Duarte-Guterman will focus specifically on changes in an area of the brain called the hippocampus and will measure biomarkers in the brain associated with cellular aging (telomeres) and inflammation. She will also measure and compare the expression of genes in the female hippocampus between aging moms and non-moms (via RNA sequencing) and hopes to determine whether recorded changes are influenced by motherhood or APOE4. In addition, she will look for other genes in the rat brain that may distinguish moms from non-moms, and that could possibly make the moms more vulnerable to brain cell aging and dementia.

This work will help to better understand the increased susceptibility of women, and especially women with past reproductive experience, for Alzheimer’s disease. Though the funding for the grant just began in October of 2017, Paula Duarte-Guterman is already making great progress. She is currently collecting data on the mothers and non-mothers. Her early results earned her a young investigator award to attend and present at the Parental Brain Conference taking place this summer in Toronto.

Pregnancy’s long term consequences have not received much attention, yet to fully understand women’s physiology, reproductive experience needs to be taken into account in research. The support from Brain Canada has allowed us to continue this work and incorporate new research techniques in cellular aging and global gene expression.
– Paula Duarte-Guterman, University of British Columbia