IntroductionThe C677T functional variant in the methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene leads to reduced enzymatic activity and elevated blood levels of homocysteine. Hyperhomocysteinemia has been linked with higher rates of cardiovascular diseases, cognitive decline, and late-life depression.
Methods and materialsHere, 3D magnetic resonance imaging data was analyzed from 738 individuals (age: 75.5 ± 6.8 years; 438 men/300 women) including 173 Alzheimer's patients, 359 subjects with mild cognitive impairment, and 206 healthy older adults, scanned as part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).
ResultsWe found that this variant associates with localized brain atrophy, after controlling for age, sex, and dementia status, in brain regions implicated in both intellectual and emotional functioning, notably the medial orbitofrontal cortices. The medial orbitofrontal cortex is involved in the cognitive modulation of emotional processes, and localized atrophy in this region was previously linked with both cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms. Here, we report that increased plasma homocysteine mediates the association between MTHFR genotype and lower medial orbitofrontal volumes, and that these volumes mediate the association between cognitive decline and depressed mood in this elderly cohort. We additionally show that vitamin B12 deficiency interacts with the C677T variant in the etiology of hyperhomocysteinemia.
ConclusionThis study sheds light on important relationships between vascular risk factors, age-related cognitive decline, and late-life depression, and represents a significant advance in our understanding of clinically relevant associations relating to MTHFR genotype.