Alzheimer’s Disease: The Role of Apolipoprotein E
Since 2012, September has been devoted to raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) with Alzheimer’s Day on 21st September each year. Dementia is the medical name attributed to a set of symptoms affecting the brain, including: difficulties with problem solving, thinking, language and memory loss. AD is the most common form of dementia accounting for 60 – 80% of cases and it is believed that half of patients with Alzheimer’s dementia (dementia due to AD) have Alzheimer’s disease 1, 2.
About Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
AD is one of the most devastating and complex diseases characterised by:
. Neurodegeneration resulting in memory loss 2
. Neurofibrillary tangles composed of tau amyloid fibrils which associates with synapse loss 2
. Accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) plaques 2
. Other cognitive functions 2
It is believed that AD is expected to begin 20 years prior to symptom onset, as the small changes in the functioning of the brain are unnoticeable to the person affected. Overtime, the symptoms progress and begin to interfere with the patient’s ability to perform everyday tasks. The final stages of AD leaves the patient bed-bound, requiring 24/7 care. Ultimately, AD is fatal. Age has been identified as a risk factor for AD with 10% of people over the age of 65 affected. Moreover, AD has been recognised as a leading cause of morbidity and the sixth leading cause of mortality, but the fifth leading cause of death in over 65’s in the US 3.
Figure 1: Alzheimer’s Disease Demographic, 2019 3
Physiological Significance of Apolipoprotein E
Apolipoprotein E (Apo E) is a lipoprotein composed of 299 amino acids with a molecular weight of 34kDa. Apo E is responsible for the regulation of homeostasis through the mediation of lipid transport from and to bodily cells and tissues. Apo E comprises of three common isoforms: apo E2, apo E3 and apo E4. The apo E isoforms differ due to differences in either the 112 and 158 amino acids, whether either arginine (ARG) or cysteine (CYS) is present 4.
Apo E3 is the parent form of apo E and is responsible for the clearance of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. Apo E3 is associated with normal lipid plasma concentrations. Apo E2 is the rarest of the apo E isoforms and differs slightly compared to the apo E3 isoform through the substitution of a single amino acid, ARG158Cys, located near the low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) recognition site. Apo E2 displays impaired binding to the receptor, prohibiting the clearance of triglyceride-rich lipoprotein remnant particles. Apo E2 is strongly associated with type-III hyperlipoproteinemia. Apo E3 also differs from apo E4, again through the substitution of a single amino acid, Cys112Arg. The main difference between apo E3 and apo E4 is that apo E4 is unaffected by the binding of the isoform to LDLR. However, apo E4 is strongly associated with dyslipidemia 5. Fig. 2 provides a visual representation of the variations in the Apo E isoforms.
Figure 2: Variations in the Apo E Isoforms 4
Apo E is expressed in numerous bodily organs with the liver presenting with the highest expression followed by the brain. Astrocytes and, to a lesser extent, microglia are the major cells responsible for the expression of apo E in the brain. In the brain, apo E, apo J and apo A-1 are predominantly expressed on distinct high-density-like lipoprotein particles. Whilst apo A-1 is the major apolipoprotein of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), in the central nervous system (CNS), apo E is the predominant apolipoprotein of HDL-like lipoproteins. HDL-like lipoproteins are the only lipoproteins present in the CNS. It is believed that the cholesterol released from apo E supports synaptogenesis 6.
Clinical Significance of Apolipoprotein E in Alzheimer’s Disease
Whilst apo E3 is the most abundant of the three isoforms, apo E4 has been known for decades to be the most significant genetic risk factor for late-onset AD. Inheriting the one copy of the apo E4 gene increases the risk of AD 2-3-fold, whilst inheriting two copies increases the risk of AD up to 12-fold 7. Whilst the underlying mechanism of apo E’s contribution to AD risk is still unclear and debatable, apo E has been identified as promoting amyloid β (Aβ) deposition and clearance as well as neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Interestingly, Aβ-independent pathways exist for apo E in AD, which led to the unearthing of the new roles of apo E including the most recent, iron metabolism and mitochondria dysfunction 8, 9. Captivatingly, sex-related hormones may play a role in AD in apo E4 carriers as AD has been recognised to be more pronounced in women 10. Apo E4 has also been identified as impairing lipid transport, microglial responsiveness, glucose metabolism, synaptic plasticity and integrity, and cerebrovascular function and integrity. Some of these pathogeneses are independent of Aβ pathways. Furthermore, therapeutic strategies are aiming to modulate the quantity, lipidation, structural properties, Aβ interaction and receptor expression of Apo E 11.
Key Features of the Randox Apolipoprotein E Assay
Randox are one of the only manufacturers to offer the apo E assay in an automated clinical chemistry format. Utilising the immunoturbidimetric method, the Randox apo E assay is available in a liquid ready-to-use format. Not only does the Randox apo E suffer from limited interferences from bilirubin, haemoglobin, intralipid® and triglycerides for truly accurate results, it has an excellent measuring range of 1.04 – 12.3mg/dl for the comfortable detection of clinically important results. Moreover, apolipoprotein calibrator and controls are available for a complete testing package. Applications are available detailing instrument-specific settings for the convenient use of the Randox apo E assay on a wide range of clinical chemistry analysers.
Biochip Technology – Alzheimer’s Array
Utilising the Biochip Technology, Randox have developed an array to identify the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in just 3 hours with one effective test. In addition to a rapid and accurate diagnosis, this also introduces both cost and time-saving benefits. The apo E4 array is a research use only product developed for the Evidence Investigator, a semi-automated benchtop immunoassay analyser which can process up to 2376 test per hour as well as up to 44 analytes screened per biochip. The apo E4 array measures both total apo E protein levels and apo E4 protein levels directly from plasma samples as well as using a ratio, it can classify patients as negative or positive for apo E4. In turn, we can then assess their risk for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
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 Alzheimer’s Society. Alzheimer’s disease. [Online] [Cited: September 2, 2019.] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/alzheimers-disease.
 Gaugler, Joseph, et al. 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. s.l. : Alzheimer’s Association, 2019.
 2014 Update of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative: A review of papers published since its inception. Weiner, Michael W, et al. 6, San Francisco : Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 2015, Vol. 11.
 Apolipoprotein E and Alzheimer disease: risk, mechanisms, and therapy. Liu, Chia-Chen, et al. 2, Fujian : Nature Reviews Neurology, 2013, Vol. 9.
 Apolipoprotein E isoforms and lipoprotein metabolism. Phillips, Michael C. 9, Philadelphia : IUBMB Journals, 2014, Vol. 66.
 The Role of Apolipoprotein E in Alzheimer’s Disease. Kim, Jungsu, Basak, Jacob M and Holtzman, David M. 3, St Louis : Neuron, 2009, Vol. 63.
 Dacks, Penny. What ApoE Means For Your Health. Cognitive Vitality. [Online] November 16, 2016. [Cited: September 11, 2019.] https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/blog/what-apoe-means-for-your-health.
 The Complex Role of Apolipoprotein E in Alzheimer’s Disease: an Overview and Update. Mahoney-Sanchez, Laura, et al. 3, Parkville : Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, 2016, Vol. 60.
 Understanding the Role of ApoE Fragments in Alzheimer’s Disease. Muñoz, SS, Gerner, B and Ooi, L. 6, Wollongong : Neurochemical Research, 2019, Vol. 44.
 ApoE4: an emerging therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease. Affieh, Mirna, Korczyn, Amos D and Michaelson, Daniel M. 64, s.l. : BMC Medicine, 2019, Vol. 17.
 Apolipoprotein E and Alzheimer disease: pathobiology and targeting strategies. Yamazaki, Yu, et al. 9AB, s.l. : Nature Reviews Neurology, 2019, Vol. 15.
It is widely recognised that high homocysteine levels in the blood (hyperhomocysteinemia) can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, which in turn may lead to atherogenesis and ischemic injury. High homocysteine levels are therefore a possible risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD), or heart disease.
However a new study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis in April 2016 (conducted by Young Cheul Chung and colleagues, from Rockefeller University in New York City) has looked into the growing evidence to suggest that hyperhomocysteinemia is also correlated with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. This study was undertaken to clarify the specific role of elevated homocysteine levels in Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology.
The study was carried out on mice, and showed a promising link between high levels of homocysteine and Alzheimer’s disease. It showed that diet-induced hyperhomocysteinemia in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model leads to severe cerebral amyloid angiopathy and parenchymal amyloid-β deposition, as well as significant impairments in learning and memory, suggesting that elevated levels of plasma homocysteine and its metabolite, homocysteine thiolactone, contribute to Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
Commenting on an earlier study, Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society UK said that the molecule [homocysteine] is carried by everyone, but those who go on to develop some dementias appear to have higher levels of the compound. She also stressed that research is needed to establish just what role if any homocysteine plays in the development of dementia and how best to keep levels of the molecule low.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive mental decline that can occur in middle to old age, due to a degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility, and is also the most common form of dementia, affecting 62% of those diagnosed. Vascular dementia is another form, affecting 17% of those diagnosed.
Paul McGivern, Clinical Chemistry R&D Manager at global healthcare company Randox Laboratories, has commented
“Dementia is a terminal condition and with 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, there is an urgent need for further research into the link between Alzheimer’s disease and homocysteine levels. If we can better establish this link, it may give future researchers the tools necessary to find a prevention, or even a cure to this condition.”
With the number of dementia sufferers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025, soaring to 2 million by 2051, the need for further research into the link between homocysteine levels and Alzheimer’s disease has never been more pressing.
For health professionals
Randox Laboratories offer an automated test for the biochemistry measurement of homocysteine. This is available for use on a wide range of manufacturer’s analysers. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information, or to request a kit insert or application.