New Study Reveals APOE4 Gene Could Increase Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

By Michal Schnaider Beeri

Exciting breakthroughs in neuroscience continue to reshape our understanding of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and its complex genetic underpinnings. This week, a groundbreaking study published in Nature Medicine sheds new light on the role of the APOE4 genotype in AD, presenting compelling evidence that challenges conventional views on the disease's etiology and treatment. The study included over 10,000 participants with AD biomarkers from different modalities (CSF, brain PET-CT, brain tissue) with more than 500 APOE4 homozygotes.

The study investigates the relationship between APOE4 homozygous individuals and AD pathology and clinical onset. APOE4 homozygotes, comprising 2% of the general population yet disproportionately representing 15% of AD patients, exhibit nearly full penetrance of pathological markers associated with the disease. Through meticulous examination of postmortem human brain tissue and analysis of CSF samples or amyloid PET-CT, the researchers observed >75% to 100% prevalence of AD pathology among APOE4 homozygotes in CSF/PET CT and postmortem brain tissue, with symptoms manifesting almost a decade earlier than in non-carriers.

Based on these results, the authors proposed considering APOE4 homozygosity not merely as a risk factor, but as a causal determinant of AD. This paradigm shift challenges existing models of disease progression and opens new avenues for therapeutic intervention and personalized medicine. By identifying APOE4 homozygosity as a primary driver of AD pathology, researchers can now direct their focus towards elucidating novel mechanisms of neurodegeneration and developing targeted interventions aimed at halting disease progression. Importantly, APOE4 confers a lesser risk in Black than in white individuals, further emphasizing the need for personalizing treatment in AD. Finally, the small percentage of APOE4 homozygotes who do not develop AD pathology and clinical symptoms may offer invaluable insights into novel mechanisms of neuroprotection.

The study's findings may carry profound implications for the development and administration of pharmacological treatments for AD. APOE4 carriers, particularly homozygotes, exhibit heightened susceptibility to adverse events associated with monoclonal antibody medications recently approved by the FDA. This, again, underscores the urgent need for tailored therapeutic approaches that account for the unique genetic profiles and vulnerabilities of AD patients, thereby minimizing treatment-related risks and maximizing efficacy.

Rutgers' Contribution to Alzheimer's Research

At Rutgers, the Alzheimer’s Research Center is evaluating the APOE4 genotype in middle-aged adults at high risk for AD due to a parental family history, from South Asian and Middle Eastern North African origins, two populations seldom studied in AD research. Dr. Mark Gluck and his team at the Rutgers Aging & Brain Health Alliance in Newark have recently shown that variations in this ABCA7 genotype (but not variations in APOE) predict deficient brain-network connectivity patterns in older African Americans. Dr. Hyung Jin Ahn’s group is elucidating the mechanism through which APOE4 contributes to the pathology of Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy (CAA), given multiple clinical findings indicating its exacerbating effect on CAA.

About the Author of the Commentary

Michal Schnaider Beeri is the Director of the Herbert and Jacqueline Krieger Klein Alzheimer’s Research Center at BHI, and a Professor of Neurology at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in NJ, US. Michal’s work focuses on the role of metabolic derangement in brain aging, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Her research spans from epidemiological studies of dementia to clinical trials testing novel treatments primarily devoted to the prevention of the disease. Michal won numerous professional awards, has over 200 peer reviewed articles and has been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer’s Association, and other research foundations.