Thumyat Noe ’23
In addition to the psychological trauma inflicted on responders and survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC), research has found that this group is experiencing earlier signs of mild cognitive impairment as they age. Currently, scientists do not understand much about the progression of this condition in WTC responders. However, a study headed by Dr. Pei Fen Kuan at Stony Brook University has identified monocytes – a gene expression biomarker – as a potential indicator whose identification could improve early detection and intervention in WTC first responders.
For the study, researchers recruited 40 male participants and no females due to a notably different gene expression patterns in males. Initial assessments included a detailed WTC exposure history questionnaire. Researchers then diagnosed participants with cognitive impairment based on the criteria previously set by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association. Blood samples from each participant were analyzed for biomarkers or gene sequences that indicate mild cognitive impairment.
Based on blood sample analysis, the team discovered that monocytes (large phagocytic white blood cells) may play an important role in Alzheimer’s disease. The results suggested that monocytes are a good target in blood-based biomarker studies for early detection of risk of MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and development of new interventions. Monocytes showed the most differential gene expression associated with mild cognitive impairment, supporting previous findings that monocytes link central and peripheral nervous systems via transduction through the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, intervention strategies that target inflammatory responses and/or infectious agents early in the disease may help to prevent or slow the progression of WTC-related neurocognitive disorders. Future studies should strive to develop interventions targeting monocytes and assess their effectiveness in slowing down progression of WTC-related cognitive impairment disorders.
 P. Kuan, et al., Single-cell transcriptomics analysis of mild cognitive impairment in World Trade Center disaster responders. Alzheimer’s Association 13, 1-8 (2021). doi: 10.1002/dad2.12154
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