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Gene-environment Interactions in Late Life: Linking Psychosocial Stress with Brain Aging

[ Vol. 16 , Issue. 3 ]


Anthony S. Zannas*   Pages 327 - 333 ( 7 )


Gene-environment interactions (GxE) can have lasting consequences on brain structure and function, potentially contributing to diverse neuropsychiatric phenotypes. This has been extensively demonstrated by studies examining GxE in childhood and early adulthood, whereas much fewer studies have addressed this question in late life. The relative paucity of studies examining GxE in late life may stem from the working hypothesis that brains become less malleable to environmental inputs as life progresses. However, while some components of brain plasticity decline with increasing age, others are retained and may even become more pronounced in old ages. Moreover, the micro- and macro-structural brain changes that accrue as a result of aging-related morbidities are likely to accentuate the susceptibility of neural circuits to environmental stressors as life advances. Supporting this hypothesis, psychosocial stress can increase the risk for late-life neuropsychiatric syndromes, especially when afflicting genetically predisposed individuals. This article reviews evidence showing how gene-stress interactions can impact the aging brain and related phenotypes in late life, and it discusses the potential mechanisms underlying such GxE and their implications for the prevention and treatment of late-life neuropsychiatric syndromes.


Aging, BDNF, dementia, gene-environment interactions, late-life depression, neuropsychiatric disorders, neuroscience, psychosocial stress, serotonin transporter.


Department of Translational Research in Psychiatry, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich

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