CogGENE is the division of CogUSC whose research focus is to examine how our genetic makeup influence cognitive functioning and aging. A serious problem faced by our aging society is that most cognitive abilities begin declining in early to middle adulthood, and this process accelerates in older age. It is unclear whether mild cognitive impairment in late life should be viewed as part of "normal" aging or represents a continuum with dementia, or if there are alternative pathways described as "normative" and "pathological" aging. Identification of how genetic and environmental factors work together to influence trajectories of cognitive abilities across age will lead to a greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie cognitive functioning throughout the lifespan and provide new insights about effective interventions for slowing these processes.

Genetic influences on individual differences in cognitive abilities are well-established, with heritability estimates reported as high as 80-90%. Although many genes undoubtedly underlie normal-range variation in cognition, thus far there have been few replicated reports of direct effects of measured genes. This may be due in part to several methodological limitations in the literature, including use of composite measures of cognition (typically termed "IQ") rather than more basic cognitive abilities, reliance on cognition as measured at a single occasion, and a focus on genetic main effects or inferred rather than measured environments.

Our current research attempts to understand the basis for variation in cognition and cognitive decline, we will add measured genes to an existing study of measured environmental risk factors obtained in a sample assessed using multiple measures of cognition in people studied prospectively from early childhood through middle to late adulthood. The sample includes approximately 1200 participants from the Intergenerational Studies developed from U.C. Berkeley's Institute of Human Development.

The project has four specific aims:

  1. To add genotypic information to this archive for 50 candidate genes on pathways for processes involved in learning, memory, and cognitive functioning.
  2. To study the impact of variation in these genes on life-span trajectories of cognitive abilities.
  3. To test specific hypotheses about mediation of genetic effects, focused on how genetic effects on complex cognitive processes (fluid and crystallized intelligence) are mediated by genetic effects on more elementary processes (memory and cognitive speed).
  4. To test specific hypotheses about moderation of genetic effects; especially focused on how genetic variation interacts with early childhood adversity and mid-life adult environmental risk factors to influence the life-span trajectories of cognitive change.

For more information on how you can help this project by donating your DNA, please see our Frequently Asked Questions page. (PDF, 112 kB).

For more information on this specific study and research, please visit our Intergenerational Studies page.