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Linking stress and senility

1:53pm, July 2, 2007

Studies have suggested that emotional stress can increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Now, scientists have found a gene that may explain the connection.

Paul E. Sawchenko of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., and his colleagues turned their attention to a gene called type 1 corticotropin-releasing factor receptor (CRFR1), because it's widely involved in the brain's responses to stress.

Scientists had shown that mice subjected to extreme stress—whether by forced swimming in cold water, starvation, or heat—develop clumps of insoluble proteins called neurofibrillary tangles in their neurons. Such tangles form, along with plaques, in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

"We wanted to know if emotional stressors that are much milder and more like the ones people experience every day would have the same effect," says Sawchenko.

To create mild stress, the scientists physically restraine

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