Molecular Insights into the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease and Its Relationship to Normal Aging

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a complex neurodegenerative disorder that diverges from the process of normal brain aging by unknown mechanisms. We analyzed the global structure of age- and disease-dependent gene expression patterns in three regions from more than 600 brains.

Gene expression variation could be almost completely explained by four transcriptional biomarkers that we named BioAge (biological age), Alz (Alzheimer), Inflame (inflammation), and NdStress (neurodegenerative stress). BioAge captures the first principal component of variation and includes genes statistically associated with neuronal loss, glial activation, and lipid metabolism.

Normally BioAge increases with chronological age, but in AD it is prematurely expressed as if some of the subjects were 140 years old. A component of BioAge, Lipa, contains the AD risk factor APOE and reflects an apparent early disturbance in lipid metabolism.

The rate of biological aging in AD patients, which cannot be explained by BioAge, is associated instead with NdStress, which includes genes related to protein folding and metabolism. Inflame, comprised of inflammatory cytokines and microglial genes, is broadly activated and appears early in the disease process.

In contrast, the disease-specific biomarker Alz was selectively present only in the affected areas of the AD brain, appears later in pathogenesis, and is enriched in genes associated with the signaling and cell adhesion changes during the epithelial to mesenchymal (EMT) transition. Together these biomarkers provide detailed description of the aging process and its contribution to Alzheimer’s disease progression.

Citation