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Recent studies suggest that close-range blast exposure (CBE), regardless of acute concussive symptoms, may have negative long-term effects on brain health and cognition; however, these effects are highly variable across individuals. One potential genetic risk factor that may impact recovery and explain the heterogeneity of blast injury’s long-term cognitive outcomes is the inheritance of an apolipoprotein (APOE) ε4 allele, a well-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. We hypothesized that APOE ε4 carrier status would moderate the impact of CBE on long-term cognitive outcomes.
To test this hypothesis, we examined 488 post-9/11 veterans who completed assessments of neuropsychological functioning, psychiatric diagnoses, history of blast exposure, military and non-military mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs), and available APOE genotypes. We separately examined the effects of CBE on attention, memory, and executive functioning in individuals with and without the APOE ε4 allele.
As predicted, we observed a differential impact of CBE status on cognition as a function of APOE ε4 status, in which CBE ε4 carriers displayed significantly worse neuropsychological performance, specifically in the domain of memory. These results persisted after adjusting for clinical, demographic, and genetic factors and were not observed when examining other neurotrauma variables (i.e., lifetime or military mTBI, distant blast exposure), though these variables displayed similar trends.
These results suggest APOE ε4 carriers are more vulnerable to the impact of CBE on cognition and highlight the importance of considering genetic risk when studying cognitive effects of neurotrauma.
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