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Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with poorer cognitive function in older adults. Although understudied in middle-aged adults, the relationship between alcohol and cognition may also be influenced by genetics such as the apolipoprotein (ApoE) ε4 allele, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. We examined the relationship between alcohol consumption, ApoE genotype, and cognition in middle-aged adults and hypothesized that light and/or moderate drinkers (≤2 drinks per day) would show better cognitive performance than heavy drinkers or non-drinkers. Additionally, we hypothesized that the association between alcohol use and cognitive function would differ by ApoE genotype (ε4+ vs. ε4−).
Participants were 1266 men from the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA; M age = 56; range 51–60) who completed a neuropsychological battery assessing seven cognitive abilities: general cognitive ability (GCA), episodic memory, processing speed, executive function, abstract reasoning, verbal fluency, and visuospatial ability. Alcohol consumption was categorized into five groups: never, former, light, moderate, and heavy.
In fully adjusted models, there was no significant main effect of alcohol consumption on cognitive functions. However, there was a significant interaction between alcohol consumption and ApoE ε4 status for GCA and episodic memory, such that the relationship of alcohol consumption and cognition was stronger in ε4 carriers. The ε4+ heavy drinking subgroup had the poorest GCA and episodic memory.
Presence of the ε4 allele may increase vulnerability to the deleterious effects of heavy alcohol consumption. Beneficial effects of light or moderate alcohol consumption were not observed.
Internalizing and externalizing psychopathology factors explain much of the covariance among psychiatric conditions, especially at the level of genetic risk. However, few studies have examined internalizing and externalizing factors in middle-aged samples, especially their ability to predict later symptoms across midlife. The goals of the current study were (i) to quantify the genetic and environmental influences on internalizing and externalizing psychopathology in individuals in their early 40s, and (ii) examine the extent to which these genetic and environmental influences predict self-reported measures of internalizing and externalizing symptoms 15–20 years later.
1484 male twins completed diagnostic interviews of psychopathology at mean age 41 and self-reported measures of anxiety, depression, substance use, and related variables at up to two time-points in late middle age (mean ages 56 and 62).
Structural equation modeling of the diagnostic interviews confirmed that internalizing and externalizing factors accounted for most of the genetic variance in individual disorders, with substantial genetic (ra = 0.70) and environmental (re = 0.77) correlations between the factors. Internalizing psychopathology at age 41 was correlated with latent factors capturing anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress symptoms at ages 56 (r = 0.51) and 62 (r = 0.43). Externalizing psychopathology at age 41 was correlated r = 0.67 with a latent factor capturing aggression, tobacco use, and alcohol use at age 56. Stability of both factors was driven by genetic influences.
These findings demonstrate the considerable stability of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology symptoms across middle age, especially their genetic influences. Diagnostic interviews effectively predict self-reported symptoms and behaviors 15–20 years later.
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