Heritability of cognitive functions in families of successful cognitive aging probands from the central valley of Costa Rica

Tiffany A. Greenwood, Michal S. Beeri, James Schmeidler, Daniel Valerio, Henriette Raventós, Lara Mora-Villalobos, Karla Camacho, José R. Carrión-Baralt, Gary Angelo, Laura Almasy, Mary Sano, Jeremy M. Silverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We sought to identify cognitive phenotypes for family/genetic studies of successful cognitive aging (SCA; maintaining intact cognitive functioning while living to late old age). We administered a battery of neuropsychological tests to nondemented nonagenarians (n = 65; mean age = 93.4 ± 3.0) and their offspring (n = 188; mean age = 66.4 ± 5.0) from the Central Valley of Costa Rica. After covarying for age, gender, and years of education, as necessary, heritability was calculated for cognitive functions at three pre-defined levels of complexity: specific neuropsychological functions (e.g., delayed recall, sequencing), three higher level cognitive domains (memory, executive functions, attention), and an overall neuropsychological summary. The highest heritability was for delayed recall (h2 = 0.74, se = 0.14, p < 0.0001) but significant heritabilities involving memory were also observed for immediate recall (h2 = 0.50), memory as a cognitive domain (h2 = 0.53), and the overall neuropsychological summary (h 2 = 0.42). Heritabilities for sequencing (h2 = 0.42), fluency (h2 = 0.39), abstraction (h2 = 0.36), and the executive functions cognitive domain (h2 = 0.35) were also significant. In contrast, the attention domain and memory recognition were not significantly heritable in these families. Among the heritable specific cognitive functions, a strong pleiotropic effect (i.e., evidence that these may be influenced by the same gene or set of genes) for delayed and immediate recall was identified (bivariate statistic = 0.934, p < 0.0001) and more modest but significant effects were found for four additional bivariate relationships. The results support the heritability of good cognitive function in old age and the utilization of several levels of phenotypes, and they suggest that several measures involving memory may be especially useful for family/genetic studies of SCA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-907
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Family studies
  • hispanic population
  • neuropsychological phenotype
  • oldest-old
  • successful cognitive aging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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