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Alzheimer’s: the role of the APOE4 protein better understood

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Researcher Karina Lindner and her colleagues from the universities of Geneva and Zurich have shown how this protein modifies lipid transport and contributes to the emergence of neurodegenerative disease.

A brain and its cells

Proper functioning of neurons in the brain depends on many other types of cells, including astrocytes. These star-shaped cells, present in large numbers in the brain, ensure the survival of neurons by nourishing them and detoxifying them using the APOE protein they secrete.

This protein ensures the detoxification of neurons by ridding them of their lipid waste, which can become harmful. Since neurons are unable to eliminate this waste on its own, APOE comes into play to collect it and bring it back to astrocytes, where it is destroyed.

About 15% of people have the APOE4 form of the protein, which increases their risk of developing the disease tenfold.

An overly effective protein

Until now, no study had managed to clearly establish the mechanisms that link APOE4 to Alzheimer’s, but some researchers argued that the protein stopped working properly. The present work shows that it is quite the opposite, and that it is in fact too effective.

This protein, by triggering the lipid secretion of astrocytes, causes the accumulation of harmful lipids for neurons, which contributes to the onset of the diseasenote in a press release the authors of this work published in the journal Cell ReportsHave (New window)Have (in English).

This work has made it possible to identify new molecular mechanisms that explain how APOE binds to the membranes of astrocytes to detect and extract the lipids it needs.

Experiences in vitro carried out on human cell lines carrying different variants of APOE have also shown that this protein is extremely effective in transporting potentially harmful lipids produced in neurons.

To our surprise, APOE4 was found to be even more effective than other forms of the protein. Thus, contrary to what we thought so far, the problem is not that APOE4 stops working, but the opposite: the mechanism is racing. »

A quote from Katharina Beckenbauer, co-first author of the study

Diverted mission

As astrocytes age, they become less efficient and begin to accumulate lipids rather than destroy themexplain the researchers.

We have experimentally modeled this process and observed the molecules secreted by astrocytesexplains Karina Lindner, also co-first author of this work.

This experiment enabled the researchers to observe how cellular aging diverts APOE from its primary function, i.e. the transport of lipids to neurons and the recovery of lipid waste, towards the secretion of triglycerides, lipids which can become harmful if they are not destroyed.

Furthermore, the researchers determined that this phenomenon is exacerbated with APOE4, which stimulates the secretion of triglycerides, leading to their uncontrolled accumulation.

This accumulation could, according to the researchers, contribute to the death of neurons, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

APOE4 would thus have the ability to accelerate the pathological process of the disease. »

A quote from Researcher Karina Lindner

The team will now work on better detailing the action of APOE and especially of its E4 variant. Its objective is to find out how the secretion of these potentially harmful lipids is regulated and whether this secretion can be detected in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. No less than 564,000 Canadians currently have Alzheimer’s or a related disease. In 15 years, there will be 937,000, estimates the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

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