U.S. scientists have discovered a gene which contributes to a higher IQ of a person and can increase it up to six points, according to a new study published in the journal Cell Reports. The gene acts by increasing the effect of the Klotho protein, which is already known to have anti-aging properties.
This discovery not only may help in the treatment of cognitive effects of neurodegenerative diseases of old age such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but in the future it may also lead to a drug therapy that will work for people regardless of age.
The researchers, led by assistant professor Dena Dubal of the University of California at San Francisco, found that those people who have in their DNA the KL-VS variant of the KL gene not only have a longer life expectancy, but also have a better cognitive performance (regardless of their age).
The KL gene encodes the Klotho protein, which was discovered in 1997 and got its name from one of the three Fates of Greek mythology. Those with the KL-VS variant of the gene (about 20% of people) have an increased production of the Klotho protein in their organism, which benefits both in terms of life expectancy and cognitive capacity.
The scientists studied 220 volunteers, 52 to 85 years old, and were initially focused on the effect of the KL-VS mutation on aging. But various tests (memory, attention, language, etc.) showed the advantage of those with the gene regardless of their age. The same results were reached by two other independent research groups, thus bringing the total number of studied subjects to 718.
Eventually, the researchers concluded that the gene and the Klotho protein it regulates can increase mental abilities of a person, regardless of age, increasing his IQ level approximately by six points. If it is confirmed by the future studies, then it will be the most important genetic factor for improving one’s intelligence level. In the past there have been found other genes responsible for intelligence, such as HMGA2 and NPTN, but their effect on cognitive abilities was considered less significant.
At the same time, the findings were confirmed in the experiments in mice, some of which were genetically modified to carry the KL-VS mutation. Both older and younger genetically modified animals did much better in learning and memory tests than the ‘normal’ ones. Also, the analysis of the brain tissue showed changes in the structure and plasticity of synapses, links between neurons, which facilitated the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that boosts memory and learning.
The researchers are optimistic about the possibility that in the future they might be able to develop a drug, perhaps in pill form, which will increase the level of the Klotho protein in people of all ages or mimic its action in order to increase their cognitive skills.