Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys cognitive skills and the ability to perform the simplest tasks. More than 5 million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimer's; a disorder which ranks third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people. With no real cure and in spite of enormous efforts worldwide, the disease remains a mystery in terms of treatment. Importantly, African-Americans are two times as likely as Whites to develop late-onset Alzheimer's disease and less likely to receive timely diagnosis and treatment. Dopamine function is linked to normal cognition and memory and carriers of the DRD2 Taq1A A1 allele have significant loss of D2 receptor density in the brain. Recent research has shown that A1 carriers have worse memory performance during long-term memory (LTM) updating, compared to non-carriers or A2-carriers. A1carriers also show less blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) activation in the left caudate nucleus which is important for LTM updating. This latter effect was only seen in older adults, suggesting magnification of genetic effects on brain functioning in the elderly. Moreover, the frequency of the A1 allele is 0.40 in African-Americans, with an approximate prevalence of the DRD2 A1 allele in 50% of an African-American subset of individuals. This is higher than what is found in a non-screened American population (≤ 28%) for reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) behaviors. Based on DRD2 known genetic polymorphisms, we hypothesize that the DRD2 Taq1A A1 allele magnifies the risk of Alzheimer's in aging African-Americans. Research linking this high risk for Alzheimer's in the African-American population, with DRD2/ANKK1-TaqIA polymorphism and neurocognitive deficits related to LTM, could pave the way for novel, targeted pro-dopamine homeostatic treatment.
Keywords: African Americans; Alzheimer’s disease; DRD2 gene; Dopamine; Early life stress; Long-term memory (LTM); Reward deficiency syndrome.