Marsha R. Mailick, PhD – Slide of the Week

Marsha R. Mailick, PhD - Slide of the Week

Title: Adjusted means of FXTAS-type symptoms by college degree attainment over time, adjusted for age, FMR1 CGG repeats, household income, and general health problems

Legend: The estimated mean trajectories of FXTAS-type symptoms over an average of nine years for two groups; those with a college degree (red) and without a college degree (blue). The members of the two groups manifested different patterns of change, with higher levels of symptom severity and greater variation in symptoms among female premutation carriers without a college degree.

Citation: Hong, J., Dembo, R. S., DaWalt, L. S., Brilliant, M., Berry-Kravis, E. M., & Mailick, M. (2022). The effect of college degree attainment on neurodegenerative symptoms in genetically at-risk women. SSM-Population Health19, 101262.

Abstract: Using longitudinal data, the present study examined the association between college degree attainment and the manifestation of neurodegenerative symptoms among women (n = 93) at elevated genetic risk. The neurodegenerative symptoms investigated in this study are due to FXTAS (Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome), a condition with onset after age 50. Those at risk for FXTAS have a mutation of a single gene found on the X chromosome. FXTAS is characterized by intention tremor, gait ataxia, executive function deficits, memory issues, and neuropathy. College degree attainment has been shown to provide neuroprotective effects in the general population, delaying the development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. For this reason, college degree attainment is a potentially salient resource for those at risk of FXTAS. The results of the present research indicated significantly more severe FXTAS symptoms in women who did not attain a college degree as compared with those who were college graduates, although the two groups were similar in age, genetic risk, household income, health behaviors, and general health problems. Furthermore, symptoms in those who did not attain a college degree worsened over the 9-year study period at a significantly faster rate than the college graduates. The association between college degree attainment and FXTAS symptoms was significantly mediated by depression, which was lower among the graduates than those who did not attain a college degree. Thus, the present research is an example of how a sociodemographic factor can mitigate neurodegenerative conditions in genetically at-risk adults.

About the Lab:

The Lifespan Family Research Program is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about families who have a member with intellectual and developmental disabilities with a special emphasis on how these families change over the lifespan. Our program of research focuses on autism, fragile X syndrome and other developmental and mental health conditions. We study cohorts of families who have generously volunteered to be members of our longitudinal research, and we are extremely grateful to them for their continued participation. Recent research topics include examining trajectories of development for adolescents and adults with disabilities and the contextual factors associated with various outcomes.

In addition, we study representative population cohorts including the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) Study, and Personalized Medicine Research Project of the Marshfield Clinic.

Investigator: Marsha R. Mailick, PhD

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