The genetics of cognitive ability and cognitive ageing in healthy older people

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Sep;15(9):388-94. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.07.004. Epub 2011 Aug 15.


Determining the genetic influences on cognitive ability in old age and in cognitive ageing are important areas of research in an increasingly ageing society. Heritability studies indicate that genetic variants strongly influence cognitive ability differences throughout the lifespan, including in old age. To date, however, only the genes encoding apolipoprotein E (APOE) and possibly catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and dystrobrevin binding protein 1 (DTNBP1) have repeatedly been associated in candidate gene studies with cognitive decline or with cognitive ability in older individuals. Genome-wide association studies have identified further potential loci, but results are tentative. Advances in exome and/or whole-genome sequencing, transcriptomics, proteomics and methylomics hold significant promise for uncovering the genetic underpinnings of cognitive ability and decline in old age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / genetics
  • Dysbindin
  • Dystrophin-Associated Proteins
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Psychotic Disorders / genetics


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Carrier Proteins
  • DTNBP1 protein, human
  • Dysbindin
  • Dystrophin-Associated Proteins
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase