. Gene transfer of human apoe isoforms results in differential modulation of amyloid deposition and neurotoxicity in mouse brain. Sci Transl Med. 2013 Nov 20;5(212) PubMed.


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  1. In this elegantly performed study, Hudry and colleagues addressed a few important gaps in the literature on ApoE and its links to amyloid pathology and Alzheimer’s disease. By using a still-unexplored strategy of adding the three different human ApoE isoforms to AD mouse models using gene therapy, and doing so at ages when the animals have existing amyloid pathology, the authors showed a detrimental effect of ApoE4, whereas ApoE2 appeared beneficial. In light of earlier reports, the current findings could have been expected, and they confirm that ApoE4 promotes Aβ pathology, even when added to the brain when amyloid is present. Importantly, that ApoE2 reduced amyloid burden in the same system suggests it could have pharmaceutical potential, and that needs to be further explored. The authors also report some ApoE isoform-dependent differences in ApoE concentrations amongst the mice. These findings are in line with previous results (see Riddell et al., 2008).

    Caution should be used when interpreting these data. APOE genotype-dependent differences in ApoE concentrations have repeatedly been described in humans; however, the results have been inconsistent. Affinity differences between ApoE antibodies and the different ApoE isoforms most probably explain these reported inconsistencies. For instance, ApoE data from a WUE4-based ELISA (Wahrle et al., 2007), similar to the one Hudry et al. used, correlated poorly (r2=0.22) with those obtained using mass-spectrometry (Cruchaga et al., 2012). Further, Hudry and colleagues do not specify whether the samples from mice with different ApoE isoforms were analyzed with the same recombinant ApoE isoform as standard.

    If the observed differences hold true, however, another important question arises: Could the observed effects be due partly to concentration-dependent effects of ApoE? For instance, would an increase in ApoE4 to the levels matching the reported ApoE2 levels have the same effect on amyloid plaque burden? Also, the authors mention a possible interaction between rodent ApoE and human ApoE, possibly in an isoform-dependent manner, which may bias the results. Lastly, whether the observed effects on amyloid plaque burden have any effect on cognitive function in these two mouse models needs to be established. Future studies addressing these questions are crucial for an adequate interpretation, not only of Hudry and colleagues’ results, but also of various similar studies aiming at elucidating the functional link between ApoE and AD.


    . Impact of apolipoprotein E (ApoE) polymorphism on brain ApoE levels. J Neurosci. 2008 Nov 5;28(45):11445-53. PubMed.

    . Apolipoprotein E levels in cerebrospinal fluid and the effects of ABCA1 polymorphisms. Mol Neurodegener. 2007;2:7. PubMed.

    . Cerebrospinal fluid APOE levels: an endophenotype for genetic studies for Alzheimer's disease. Hum Mol Genet. 2012 Oct 15;21(20):4558-4571. PubMed.

  2. Although the association of ApoE with AD risk and age of onset is indisputable, whether ApoE is a tractable therapeutic target remains an open question. Brad Hyman’s group has recently published a paper that adds considerable strength to the therapeutic potential of the protective ApoE2 isoform. In this work, they used intraventricular injection of adeno-associated virus to deliver human ApoE2, ApoE3, or ApoE4 to the brains of symptomatic 7-month-old APP/PS1 transgenic mice. Two months after injection, they observed transduced cells in the choroid plexus and ependyma, with human ApoE levels constituting approximately 10 percent of endogenous murine ApoE levels. Five months after injection, the levels of human ApoE stabilized to be approximately 5 percent of endogenous murine ApoE. Two methods were used to determine if transduced human ApoE was distributed throughout the brain. First, species-specific immunofluorescence microscopy confirmed detection of human ApoE around amyloid deposits in transduced APP/PS1 mice. Second, microdialysis of interstitial fluid (ISF) confirmed the presence of ApoE when delivered into ApoE-/- mice, albeit in these animals the stable levels of transduced ApoE was approximately twice as much as in transduced APP/PS1 mice.

    Five months after injection, amyloid plaque burden was unchanged in animals injected with human ApoE3, significantly increased in animals injected with ApoE4 and significantly decreased in animals injected with ApoE2. Insoluble and soluble Aβ40 and Aβ42 levels also demonstrated this ApoE4>ApoE3>ApoE2 pattern. By two months after injection, similar trends were observed, suggesting that ApoE’s effect on Aβ metabolism developed over a period of several months. No changes were observed in APP processing, glial activation, or expression of the Aβ peptidase insulin-degrading enzyme. Injection of ApoE2 increased plasma Aβ40 levels compared with ApoE3 and ApoE4, consistent with a role for ApoE in retaining Aβ within the CNS. No marked changes in blood brain barrier (BBB) integrity were observed. The rate of amyloid formation and clearance was evaluated using in-vivo, two-photon imaging, which showed that the rate of amyloidosis was greater in the presence of ApoE4 but significantly slowed in the presence of ApoE2 relative to ApoE3.

    Array tomography was then used to investigate the effects of human ApoE expression on synaptic integrity, as ApoE4 is associated with higher levels of synaptic oligomeric Aβ and lower synaptic density in human AD brain. Transduction of ApoE3 or ApoE4 both led to loss of presynaptic synapsin-1 near amyloid plaques, an effect that was not observed with ApoE2. Compared with ApoE2 and ApoE3, ApoE4 led to increased dystrophic neurites and a significant loss of postsynaptic PSD-95 levels, again only in the vicinity of plaques.

    To validate these findings in a second AD mouse model, symptomatic Tg2576 mice were transduced between 16 and 18 months of age and assessed three months afterwards. Microdialysis showed that ApoE4 led to significantly higher levels of oligomeric Aβ compared with ApoE2 or ApoE3 in ISF and significantly increased formic acid-extracted Aβ42.

    In 2005, Steven Paul’s laboratory performed similar studies using lentiviral-mediated delivery of human ApoE directly into the hippocampus of PDAPP mice (Dodart et al., 2005). In these experiments, significantly elevated plaque and insoluble Aβ42 levels were observed five weeks after ApoE4 was injected into the CA3 region of 11- to 13-month-old PDAPP mice lacking endogenous murine ApoE. In contrast, neither plaque nor Aβ42 loads were altered in animals injected with ApoE2 or ApoE3. However, ApoE2 did decrease Aβ42 and plaque loads in a second group of PDAPP mice that were injected in the CA1 region at 7 months and assessed five weeks later. In this group of mice, ApoE4 tended to increase plaque burden, but the effects were not significant. However, pooling the findings of both groups revealed a significant reduction in hippocampal Aβ burden with ApoE2 and a significant increase with ApoE4 compared with lenti-GFP controls. A third group of PDAPP mice were injected at 10 months of age and examined three months later to assess the chronic effects of lentiviral delivery of ApoE. In this group of animals, ApoE2 significantly reduced hippocampal Aβ burden, but the increase in Aβ burden in ApoE4-injected animals did not reach significance. The authors also noted that lentivirus exposure led to loss of granule neurons in the dentate gyrus in animals examined three months after injection, whereas this neurotoxicity was not observed five weeks after injection. Neurotoxicity appeared to be confined to animals injected into the CA3 region, as no granule cell loss was reported after CA1 delivery.

    Building on this foundation, the data provided by Hurdy et al. provide several new findings that support the feasibility of ApoE gene therapy approaches for AD. First, intraventricular AAV injection leads to stable transduction of the choroid plexus and ependymal cells, which leads to widespread distribution of transduced ApoE, including its presence in ISF. Second, even modest expression—namely 10 percent—of endogenous murine ApoE significantly accelerated Aβ clearance with ApoE2>ApoE3>ApoE4 in symptomatic animals. Third, these changes in Aβ metabolism corresponded with preservation of synaptic integrity in the vicinity of plaques. Finally, AAV delivery appeared to cause no overt neurotoxicity or BBB damage.

    A pivotal future experiment will be to determine whether delivery of ApoE2 normalizes the deleterious effects of ApoE4 on Aβ metabolism and synaptic function. If so, AAV-mediated gene therapy of ApoE2 for AD could be pursued as a therapeutic approach for AD. AAV offers several advantages as a gene therapy vector and more than 60 clinical trials using AAV have been conducted in humans. In 2012, alipogene tiparvovec became the first AAV-mediated gene therapy to be approved for lipoprotein lipase deficiency in the European Union (European Medicines Agency, July 19, 2012). The advantages of AAV for gene therapy include the wide array of available serotypes and stable expression without integration of the vector into the host genome. Although its cargo capacity is relatively small compared with other vectors, ApoE is within its packaging limit. Importantly, direct CNS delivery may reduce some of the concerns regarding limitations of the host immune response for systemic delivery approaches. For example, Parkinson’s disease patients treated with bilateral intrastriatal infusion of AAV expressing human aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) exhibited improved mean scores on the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) by approximately 30 percent, although the surgical procedure led to an increased risk of intracranial hemorrhage and headache (Christine et al., 2009). A follow-up study that followed subjects annually for four years confirmed stable expression of AADC over this time period with an acceptable safety profile, albeit with slowly deteriorating UPDRS measures.

    Strategies to overcome the deleterious effects of ApoE4 are urgently needed for millions of people who are affected by or at risk for AD. Hurdy and colleagues have taken the foundation laid by Dodart et al. a major step forward with this endeavor.


    . Gene delivery of human apolipoprotein E alters brain Abeta burden in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jan 25;102(4):1211-6. PubMed.

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  3. In this interesting study, the authors demonstrate that the ApoE4 gene variant increases amyloid plaque load, promotes synaptic loss and neuritic dystrophy in close proximity to the plaques, and delays Aβ clearance. In contrast, ApoE2 expression decreases amyloid plaque density and soluble Aβ peptides in the brain, while the synaptic loss near the plaques is not increased compared to controls (AAV-GFP animals). These data support previous studies showing that ApoE4 causes extensive Aβ deposition by potentially delaying Aβ peptide clearance, leads to blood brain barrier disruption by activating the proinflammatory cyclophilin A pathway in BBB-associated pericytes, and is associated with the severity of cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). This study offers important new insights into the effects of ApoE and suggests that ApoE2 may demonstrate neuroprotective properties. However, ApoE2 over-expression has been also implicated in CAA and it has been reported that ApoE2 is a risk factor for hemorrhage, while other studies connect ApoE2 with increased risk for atherosclerosis. In addition, it would be helpful to demonstrate whether the effects of ApoE2 are beneficial for learning and memory. More studies are needed to address these important questions.

  4. This paper beautifully shows that by using a unique method of AAV-mediated gene delivery via the choroid plexus and ependyma, relatively small increases in expression of human ApoE4 are achieved that increase Aβ deposition and toxicity, while ApoE2 has the opposite effect. Consistent with previous work from our lab and the Zlokovic lab, the data are consistent with ApoE3 and ApoE4 causing relative retention of Aβ within the brain. These data are extremely important because they suggest that increasing expression of ApoE2 may be protective and that decreasing expression of ApoE3 and ApoE4 may be protective in regard to Aβ deposition and Aβ toxicity. This is consistent with experiments published by my lab and the lab of Yadong Huang showing that decreasing human ApoE3 or ApoE4 from birth decreases Aβ deposition. Importantly, the experiments by Hudry et al. were done in adult animal animals, suggesting that if manipulations like this can be done in the adult brain, one would want to increase ApoE2 and decrease ApoE4 for therapeutic efficacy. It will be important in future experiments to increase or decrease expression of human ApoE in mice that only express human ApoE in the absence of murine ApoE to best interpret what one would see in humans.

This paper appears in the following:


  1. Averting a Late-life Crisis: Midlife ApoE2 Clears Plaques in Mice