Twin studies of Alzheimer's disease: An approach to etiology and prevention

John C.S. Breitner, Edmond A. Murphy, Marshal F. Folstein, Kathryn Magruder-Habib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epidemiologic studies of environmental factors associated with risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) have produced inconsistent and disappointing results. By contrast, family/genetic studies and case control investigations suggest that genetic causes of AD are important. The investigation of such genetic causes remains an important aim in all forms of AD including typical, late-onset disease where linkage work is impractical. But the public health burden of AD creates an especially urgent need to identify environment risk factors, if these exist, since they will more likely be susceptible to intervention. Such environmental factors may interact with genetic susceptibility to accelerate or retard disease expression, and environmental interventions that delay onset may constitute an important strategy for prevention. All these issues may be addressed by twin studies of AD, but the few such studies to date have been limited by small samples and other methodologic difficulties. This paper reviews the rationale for twin studies of AD, and describes briefly the work in this area to date. It also discusses a number of suggestions for methodologic improvements. We conclude that the time is ripe for twin studies of AD, and that such work holds considerable potential for the investigation of etiology and, possibly, for the identification of strategies for prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-648
Number of pages8
JournalNeurobiology of aging
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1990


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Epidemiology
  • Etiology
  • Genetics
  • Onset
  • Prevention
  • Risk factors
  • Twin studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Aging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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