Health & Wellness

USU Scientists Report Alzheimer's Risk Findings in 'Nature’

Scientists in Utah State University’s Center for Epidemiologic Studies are among a multi-university collaboration of researchers reporting genetic findings that provide further clues about a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Christopher Corcoran, professor and associate department head in USU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics; JoAnn Tschanz, professor in USU’s Department of Psychology;  Maria Norton, associate professor in USU’s Department of Family, Consumer and Human Development and the Department of Psychology and Ronald Munger, professor in USU’s Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences, are among more than 50 authors of the paper, “Rare Coding Variants in Phospholipase D3 Gene Confer Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease,” published Dec. 11, 2013, in the Advance Online Publication edition of Nature.

“Phospholipase D3, or ‘PLD3,’ is a signaling enzyme that affects how proteins are regulated,” Corcoran says. “Our findings could help explain the build-up of protein plaques in the brain that occurs with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Corcoran says the research collaboration, which includes Brigham Young University, Washington University, the National Institutes of Health’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics, as well as research institutes in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Australia, is driven by huge data sets accumulated by epidemiologists around the world coupled with advances in bioinformatics and genetics research.

“Data collected through such efforts as the Cache County Study on Memory Health and Aging are fueling critical research of factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “In fact, data from the Cache County study revealed the first genetic associations of the disease.”

Accompanying advances in statistical genetics provide researchers with a new incentive to collaborate with other groups studying large data samples.

“We now have the tools to tackle these large piles of data and examine millions of genetic markers,” Corcoran says. “This is quite an exciting time for epidemiologic research.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, resulting in dementia and, eventually, death. The Centers for Disease Control estimates as many as 5 million Americans are currently afflicted with the condition. 

Related Links

USU Center of Epidemiologic Studies 


Chris Corcoran, 435-797-4012,

JoAnn Tschanz, 435-797-1583,

Maria Norton, 435-797-1599,

Ron Munger, 435-797-2122,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

Chris Corcoran, Maria Norton, Ron Munger and JoAnn Tschanz

USU researchers, from left, Chris Corcoran, Maria Norton, Ron Munger and JoAnn Tschanz are among authors of breaking genetic Alzheimer's research published Dec. 11, 2013, in the journal 'Nature.’


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