Background: While Alzheimer disease (AD) is generally considered as a brain disorder, blood biomarkers may be useful for diagnosis and prediction of AD brain pathology. The APOE ε4 allele has shown cerebrovascular effects including acceleration of blood brain barrier breakdown.
Methods: We evaluated differential expression of previously established AD genes in brains from 344 pathologically confirmed AD cases and 232 controls and in blood from 112 pathologically confirmed AD cases and 67 controls from the Religious Orders Study and Memory and Aging Project. Differential gene expression between AD cases and controls was analyzed in the blood and brain jointly using a multivariate approach in the total sample and within APOE genotype groups. Gene set enrichment analysis was performed within APOE genotype groups using the results from the combined blood and brain analyses to identify biologically important pathways. Gene co-expression networks in brain and blood samples were investigated using weighted correlation network analysis. Top ranked genes from networks and pathways were further evaluated with vascular injury traits.
Results: We observed differentially expressed genes with P<0.05 in both brain and blood for established AD genes INPP5D (upregulated) and HLA-DQA1 (downregulated). PIGHP1 and FRAS1 were differentially expressed at the transcriptome-wide level (P<3.3x10 -6 ) within ε2/ε3 and ε3/ε4 groups, respectively. Gene-set enrichment analysis revealed 21 significant pathways (false discovery rate P<0.05) in at least one APOE genotype group. Ten pathways were significantly enriched in the ε3/ε4 group, and six of these were unique to these subjects. Four pathways were enriched for AD upregulated genes in the ε3/ε4 group and AD downregulated genes in ε4 lacking subjects. We identified a co-expressed gene network in brain that reproduced in blood and showed higher average expression in ε4 carriers. Twenty-three genes from pathway and network analyses were significantly associated at P<0.05 with at least one vascular injury trait.
Conclusion: These results suggest that APOE genotype contributes to unique expression network profiles in both blood and brain. Several genes in these networks are associated with measures of vascular injury and potentially contribute to ε4’s effect on the blood brain barrier.