Many physiological processes in the human body follow a 24-h circadian rhythm controlled by the circadian clock system. Light, sensed by retina, is the predominant "zeitgeber" able to synchronize the circadian rhythms to the light-dark cycles. Circadian rhythm dysfunction and sleep disorders have been associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases including mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). In the present study, we aimed at investigating the genetic variability of clock genes in AD patients compared to healthy controls from Italy. We also included a group of Italian centenarians, considered as super-controls in association studies given their extreme phenotype of successful aging. We analyzed the exon sequences of eighty-four genes related to circadian rhythms, and the most significant variants identified in this first discovery phase were further assessed in a larger independent cohort of AD patients by matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry. The results identified a significant association between the rs3027178 polymorphism in the PER1 circadian gene with AD, the G allele being protective for AD. Interestingly, rs3027178 showed similar genotypic frequencies among AD patients and centenarians. These results collectively underline the relevance of circadian dysfunction in the predisposition to AD and contribute to the discussion on the role of the relationship between the genetics of age-related diseases and of longevity.
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