Genetics Of Alzheimer Disease

The Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC) at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Aging (NIA) are currently studying genes that may play a role in Alzheimer Disease. Genetic Research seeks to understand how and why a disease develops.  With this understanding, diagnostic tests and ultimately effective treatments or a cure may be available. 

We are trying to find out the causes of Alzheimer Disease and of the disturbing symptoms, delusions and hallucinations, which are experienced by many individuals who develop Alzheimer Disease. We are interested in finding out why Alzheimer Disease, and these symptoms, run in families. This could be due to inherited (genetic) factors, and/or due to factors in the environment. It is through the help of individuals and families that researchers can sort out these possibilities and ultimately identify genes that contribute to disease.

In order to investigate these possibilities, we examine genetic markers in the blood in several ways.  Some studies compare the members of a family who have Alzheimer Disease with family members who do not have it, or compare family members with Alzheimer Disease to each other. Comparing family members who have Alzheimer Disease to those without it is meant to identify differences between the two groups.  When two members (usually siblings) who both have Alzheimer Disease are compared, researchers look for common inherited markers.  Other types of genetic studies do not involve families, instead comparing differences in genetic markers between individuals who have Alzheimer Disease and unrelated elderly individuals without Alzheimer Disease.

At the University of Pittsburgh, we have several projects studying the genetic basis of Alzheimer Disease.



National Institute On Aging Late Onset Alzheimer Family Study

(National Cell Repository for Alzheimer Disease)

The National Institute on Aging has established a new initiative to identify and evaluate a total of 1000 families with Alzheimer Disease. To achieve this goal, they have asked Alzheimer Disease Research Centers around the country, including the University of Pittsburgh, to participate.  The Family Study will promote widespread collaboration and sharing of resources, to help accelerate progress in Alzheimer Disease genetic research.

Can I participate? 

This project was recently featured in an HBO documentary,

"The Nanney/Felts Family: Late-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics."

Watch it now at: 



National Institute On Aging Late Onset Alzheimer Family Study - Psychosis SubStudy

The University of Pittsburgh is leading an effort within the National Institute on Aging Late Onset Alzheimer Disease Family Study to identify genes that also play a role in difficult symptoms, delusions and hallucinations (psychosis), that sometimes accompany Alzheimer Disease. Families who participate in the National Alzheimer Disease Genetics Initiative can also participate in this study.



Prediction Of Psychosis In

Alzheimer's Disease

This study is also looking to identify genes that play a role in difficult symptoms, delusions and hallucinations (psychosis) that sometimes accompany Alzheimer Disease.  However, this study focuses on psychosis symptoms occurring in individuals, rather than within families.  We are interested in learning why some individuals with Alzheimer Disease develop these symptoms while others do not and to what extent genes may play a role.  To be eligible to participate in the study, individuals must be participants of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh and not exhibiting any psychosis symptoms at the time of Alzheimer Disease Research Center enrollment.


Back to Top



Neuropathology Of Schizophrenia

Patients or their families who may be interested in brain tissue donation for studies of schizophrenia should contact:

Dr. Sweet


Back to Top


Brain Tissue Donation And Late Life Mood Disorders

Can I participate?                 

Links for Families

Little is known about the brain–depression connection

One of the greatest mysteries about human behavior is how the brain’s structure affects our emotions and mood. There is a growing need for clear knowledge about how the human brain relates to depression and other mood disorders. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have embarked on a mission to uncover what happens in the brains of individuals affected by mood disorders. Major Depressive Disorder is one of the most frequent psychiatric syndromes in late-life and impacts individuals’ lives by contributing to illness and disability. Nonetheless, little is known about the brain–depression connection.


Brain tissue research offers hope

One of the essential resources that researchers depend upon to study disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and severe mental illnesses is brain tissue donated after death. The study of brain tissue in these and similar conditions has led to a greater understanding of these illnesses, and hence to new options for treatment and the hope for an eventual cure. Dr. Robert Sweet has established a Late-Life Mood Disorders Brain Tissue Collection at UPMC in order to generate greater understanding of depression and other mood disorders in the eventual pursuit of improving treatment and increasing hope for affected individuals and their families. To our knowledge, the Late-Life Mood Disorders Brain Tissue Collection is the first attempt to establish such a resource with the goal of furthering the understanding of late-life depression and mood disorders.


Family members are essential to the process

Family members of elderly individuals experiencing a mood disorder can help in this effort. Many families and patients have expressed their hope to contribute to a better understanding of mood disorders so that future generations not have to contend with such a debilitating illness. It is a good idea for patients and families to discuss their thoughts together in order to facilitate the decision-making process. Patients’ families are invited to speak with the treating clinician to ask questions or obtain further information. Although an individual can make a personal request and provide provisional consent to donate his/her tissue, ultimately it is the surviving family members who have the responsibility, at the time of their loved one’s death, of deciding whether this unique and valuable contribution will be made.


Patients and families are offering hope to future generations

Families and individuals affected by a mood disorder can have a powerful role influencing scientists’ ability to improve knowledge and thereby enhance future treatment options and possibly lead to the prevention of depression and other similar illnesses. Ultimately, affected individuals and their families are the only ones who can contribute in this very special way.


Facts about brain tissue donation

1. The donor’s family must authorize the autopsy before it can be performed.

2. A brain only autopsy is performed very carefully and involves an incision at the back of the head. The incision will not be noticeable in any way, and does not prevent an open casket viewing.

3. The donor can request that a copy of the brain autopsy report be shared with his/her family.

4. Research funds cover the costs for the procedure.

5. Brain tissue donation does not conflict with most religious perspectives. Please speak to your clergy person if you have questions.


For Further Information

 If you are a patient who is already participating in a research study at the Late-Life Mood Disorders Clinic, please feel free to discuss your thoughts about brain tissue donation with your clinician. If you are a family member of a patient, please feel free to contact the treating clinician for further information or contact:

The study coordinator


Back to Top