Background: Reduction of brain volume (brain atrophy) during healthy brain aging is well documented and dependent on genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Here we investigated the possible dependence of brain gray matter volume reduction in the absence of the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) allele DRB1*13:02 which prevents brain atrophy in Gulf War Illness (James et al., 2017). Methods: Seventy-one cognitively healthy women (32–69 years old) underwent a structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (sMRI) scan to measure the volumes of total gray matter, cerebrocortical gray matter, and subcortical gray matter. Participants were assigned to two groups, depending on whether they lacked the DRB1*13:02 allele (No DRB1*13:02 group, N = 60) or carried the DRB1*13:02 allele (N = 11). We assessed the change of brain gray matter volume with age in each group by performing a linear regression where the brain volume (adjusted for total intracranial volume) was the dependent variable and age was the independent variable. Findings: In the No DRB1*13:02 group, the volumes of total gray matter, cerebrocortical gray matter, and subcortical gray matter were reduced highly significantly. In contrast, none of these volumes showed a statistically significant reduction with age in the DRB1*13:02 group. Interpretation: These findings document the protective effect of DRB1*13:02 on age-dependent reduction of brain gray matter in healthy individuals. Since the role of this allele is to connect to matching epitopes of external antigens for the subsequent production of antibodies and elimination of the offending antigen, we hypothesize that its protective effect may be due to the successful elimination of such antigens to which we are exposed during the lifespan, antigens that otherwise would persist causing gradual brain atrophy. In addition, we consider a possible beneficial role of DRB1*13:02 attributed to its binding to cathepsin S, a known harmful substance in brain aging (Wendt et al., 2008). Of course, other factors covarying with the presence of DRB1*13:02 could be involved.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Partial funding for this study was provided by the University of Minnesota (the Kunin Professorship for Women's Healthy Brain Aging, the Brain and Genomics Fund, the McKnight Presidential Chair of Cognitive Neuroscience, and the American Legion Brain Sciences Chair). The sponsors had no role in the current study design, analysis or interpretation, or in the writing of this paper. The contents do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.
- Brain atrophy
- Healthy brain aging
- Human Leukocyte Antigen