Summary: Study implicates a genetic variation within a segment of the Mucin 6 gene as a new risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Source: Oxford University Press USA
A new paper in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology finds a gene that may help explain a large part of the genetic risk for developing Alzheimer disease.
Late-onset Alzheimer disease, the most common form of the illness, is a devastating neurological condition with aspects of heritable risk that are incompletely understood. Unfortunately, the complexity of the human genome and shortcomings of earlier research are limiting factors, so that some genetic phenomena were not surveyed completely in prior studies. For example, there are many incompletely mapped genomic regions, and areas with repetitive sequences, that could not be studied previously.
Although Alzheimer’s is known to be largely heritable, a substantial proportion of the actual genetic risk for the disease has remained unexplained, despite extensive studies. This knowledge gap is known to researchers are the “missing (or hidden) heritability” problem. For example, while heritability explained 79% of late-onset Alzheimer disease risk in a Swedish twin study, common risk variants identified by pervious genetic studies explained only 20% to 50% of late-onset Alzheimer disease. In other words, a relatively large amount of genetic influence on late-onset Alzheimer disease risk was not explained by prior genetic studies.
Recent advances in sequencing technologies have enabled more comprehensive studies. Such developments allow for more precise and accurate identification of genetic material than was available in earlier gene variant studies.
In the present study, researchers analyzed Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project data derived from over 10,000 people (research volunteers who agreed to have their genetic data evaluated in combination with their disease status), with the goal of identifying genetic variation associated with late-onset Alzheimer disease.
Preliminary results found evidence of late-onset Alzheimer disease -linked genetic variation within a segment of a gene called Mucin 6. Although the underlying mechanisms are mostly still unknown, researchers here believe that it’s possible to draw credible and testable hypotheses based on these results. For example, the genetic variant that was associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk may implicate a biochemical pathway in the brain that then represents a potential therapeutic target, a topic for future studies.
Corresponding authors were Yuriko Katsumata and Peter Nelson, both from the University of Kentucky. Dr. Nelson said of this study, “Our findings were made in a group of patients that is relatively small for a genetics study–some recent studies included hundreds of thousands of research subjects! That small sample size means two things: first, we should exercise caution and we need to make sure the phenomenon can be replicated in other groups; and second, it implies that there is a very large effect size–the genetic variation is strongly associated with the disease.”
Oxford University Press USAr
Peter T. Nelson – Oxford University Press USA
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Original Research: Open access
“Alzheimer Disease Pathology-Associated Polymorphism in a Complex Variable Number of Tandem Repeat Region Within the MUC6 Gene, Near the AP2A2 Gene”. Peter Nelson et al.
Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology doi:10.1093/jnen/nlz116.
Alzheimer Disease Pathology-Associated Polymorphism in a Complex Variable Number of Tandem Repeat Region Within the MUC6 Gene, Near the AP2A2 Gene
We found evidence of late-onset Alzheimer disease (LOAD)-associated genetic polymorphism within an exon of Mucin 6 (MUC6) and immediately downstream from another gene: Adaptor Related Protein Complex 2 Subunit Alpha 2 (AP2A2). PCR analyses on genomic DNA samples confirmed that the size of the MUC6 variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) region was highly polymorphic. In a cohort of autopsied subjects with quantitative digital pathology data (n = 119), the size of the polymorphic region was associated with the severity of pTau pathology in neocortex. In a separate replication cohort of autopsied subjects (n = 173), more pTau pathology was again observed in subjects with longer VNTR regions (p = 0.031). Unlike MUC6, AP2A2 is highly expressed in human brain. AP2A2 expression was lower in a subset analysis of brain samples from persons with longer versus shorter VNTR regions (p = 0.014 normalizing with AP2B1 expression). Double-label immunofluorescence studies showed that AP2A2 protein often colocalized with neurofibrillary tangles in LOAD but was not colocalized with pTau proteinopathy in progressive supranuclear palsy, or with TDP-43 proteinopathy. In summary, polymorphism in a repeat-rich region near AP2A2 was associated with neocortical pTau proteinopathy (because of the unique repeats, prior genome-wide association studies were probably unable to detect this association), and AP2A2 was often colocalized with neurofibrillary tangles in LOAD.