Manchester researchers identify genes linked to educational attainment and cognitive decline

6 June 2016

Manchester academics have helped identify genes associated with educational attainment in a new study published by the journal Nature.

Scientists believe these same genes are likely to also play a role in cognitive function and decline. In one of the largest ever genetic studies, an international group of 253 scientists identified 74 genetic variants that are associated with an individual’s total years of education.

Neil Pendleton, professor of medical gerontology and MICRA deputy director, coordinated Manchester’s part of the consortium. ‘Even though it focuses on educational attainment in early life, this study is highly relevant to ageing. There is a substantial connection between childhood and adolescent cognitive performance and that of older adults. The results of this study add to what we know about drivers of cognitive ageing and will inform research on why some people are more susceptible to early cognitive decline than others’, he said.

The study used information on 300,000 individuals of European descent from 64 datasets across 15 countries, and utilised the UK Biobank based in Manchester. The total influence of the 74 identified genetic variants is very small, explaining about 0.43 percent of the variation in educational attainment.

The interdisciplinary team including psychologists and medical researchers combined their own results with data from previous studies to find that many of the genes associated with educational attainment are influential in brain development. Professor Pendleton added, ‘We have been studying determinants of healthy cognitive ageing in older adults for over 15 years with genetics being major part of this. The work demonstrates the importance of scientists’ interdisciplinary collaboration which of course is a central aim of MICRA.’

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