Health Check: Brain differences in children with Alzheimer's gene

It took years to develop, but Brown University researcher Sean Deoni came up with a kid-friendly MRI.

It's silent and acquires brain images quickly.

And with this MRI, Deoni's been studying the developing brain. Most recently his work has focused on Alzheimer's and a specific gene that puts people at risk of developing the disease.

It's called the APOE gene.

Everyone carries the gene, but specifically, it's a form of this gene, known as the E4 allele, which is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

In a recent study, of the 162 babies enrolled, 60 were found to carry the E4 allele.

"So we were wondering if this had an influence early on," Deoni said.

And what he found was surprising.

"What we found is that the children who carried the E4 allele do seem to develop more rapidly initially, but by about a year to 16 months, the child with either the E2 or E3 alleles have caught up. And certainly by 2-and-a-half years of age, the E3's are much higher in terms of brain structure and development of E4's," Deoni said.

Deoni was quick to point out the findings don't mean the brain changes are the first clinical signs of the disease, but information from the study may be an important step forward.

"Basically by understanding what this gene is doing, why it's conferring this risk, we can have a better target for treatments and an earlier window to start treating them," Deoni said.

The research was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Institute on Aging. The results of Deoni's study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology.