CUMC Researchers Identify Key Molecular Pathways Leading to Alzheimer's
Non-familial Alzheimer’s is complex; it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, each having a modest effect individually. Using so-called genome-wide association studies (GWAS), prior reports have identified a handful of common genetic variants that increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. A key goal has been to understand how such common genetic variants function to impact the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.
In the current study, the CUMC researchers identified key molecular pathways that link such genetic risk factors to Alzheimer’s disease. The work combined cell biology studies with systems biology tools, which are based on computational analysis of the complex network of changes in the expression of genes in the at-risk human brain.
More specifically, the researchers first focused on the single most significant genetic factor that puts people at high risk for Alzheimer’s, called APOE4 (found in about a third of all individuals). People with one copy of this genetic variant have a three-fold increased risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s, while those with two copies have a ten-fold increased risk. “In this study,” said Dr. Abeliovich, “we initially asked: If we look at autopsy brain tissue from individuals at high risk for Alzheimer’s, is there a consistent pattern?”
Surprisingly, even in the absence of Alzheimer’s disease, brain tissue from individuals at high risk (who carried APOE4 in their genes) harbored certain changes reminiscent of those seen in full-blown Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Abeliovich. “We therefore focused on trying to understand these changes, which seem to put people at risk. The brain changes we considered were based on ‘transcriptomics’—a broad molecular survey of the expression levels of the thousands of genes expressed in brain.” Continue>
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