Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

JoAnn T. Tschanz


JoAnn T. Tschanz


Mona Buhusi


Scott DeBerard


Gail Rattinger


Sarah Schwartz


The Cache County Study on Memory in Aging (CCSMA) and subsequent Dementia Progression Study (DPS) were two research studies that took place in Cache County, Utah. These studies followed 5092 participants aged 65 or older for approximately 12 years and looked at risk and protective factors for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. One of the factors investigated was genes that are known to influence brain health, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein found in the brain that helps with the survival of brain cells.

BDNF genes have been shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD) risk, but little is known about the influence these genes have after dementia is diagnosed. The current study looked at how BDNF related genes were associated with learning and memory abilities (i.e. cognitive ability) and problematic behaviors (e.g. delusions, agitation/aggression, anxiety) in individuals from the CCSMA and DPS who were diagnosed with ADRD. This research is important to help understand what may contribute to often-seen differences in dementia progression and help inform possible treatment decisions.

The results of the current project showed that BDNF genes influenced both progression of cognitive difficulties and problematic behaviors in individuals with ADRD. Additionally, it was shown that many of these effects depended on the sex of the individual, such that men and women progressed at different rates and were influenced by different BDNF related genotypes. These results provide evidence of the influence of BDNF genes after dementia diagnosis and highlights the need to investigate contributing factors related to the sex of the individual. Targeted medication or behavioral treatment of dementia that both improves BDNF function in the brain, as well as mitigates any sex-related effects, may also be another avenue for future research.



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