Shared genetic risk factor for COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease

08 October 2021

A team of scientists at the UK Dementia Research and based at UCL have found a gene that impacts the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and severe COVID-19. The researchers estimate that the OAS1 gene increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about 3-6% in the population as a whole and related versions of this gene also increase the likelihood of severe COVID-19. The findings, published in the scientific journal, Brain today (Friday 8 November).

Our expert’s view

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Fairly early in the pandemic, people with dementia emerged as a group at particular risk of severe COVID-19 infection. While there are likely to be several reasons for this, the study raises the possibility of a shared genetic risk factor playing a role.

“This molecular study highlights a mechanism by which this genetic risk factor leads to overactive inflammation, a process that can contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and worsen the symptoms of COVID-19.

“There is emerging evidence of neurological changes that may persist in some people who have contracted COVID-19, and researchers are working to understand how these might impact a person’s future health. We don’t know whether the effects of this risk gene could influence long-term neurological consequences of COVID-19 or whether COVID-19 infection increases the risk of dementia later in life.”