Dissecting the genetic relationship between cardiovascular risk factors and Alzheimer’s disease


Cardiovascular (CV)- and lifestyle-associated risk factors (RFs) are increasingly recognized as important for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis. Beyond the ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E (APOE), comparatively little is known about whether CV-associated genes also increase risk for AD. Using large genome-wide association studies and validated tools to quantify genetic overlap, we systematically identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) jointly associated with AD and one or more CV-associated RFs, namely body mass index (BMI), type 2 diabetes (T2D), coronary artery disease (CAD), waist hip ratio (WHR), total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG), low-density (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In fold enrichment plots, we observed robust genetic enrichment in AD as a function of plasma lipids (TG, TC, LDL, and HDL); we found minimal AD genetic enrichment conditional on BMI, T2D, CAD, and WHR. Beyond APOE, at conjunction FDR < 0.05 we identified 90 SNPs on 19 different chromosomes that were jointly associated with AD and CV-associated outcomes. In meta-analyses across three independent cohorts, we found four novel loci within MBLAC1 (chromosome 7, meta-p = 1.44 × 10−9), MINK1 (chromosome 17, meta-p = 1.98 × 10−7) and two chromosome 11 SNPs within the MTCH2/SPI1 region (closest gene = DDB2, meta-p = 7.01 × 10−7 and closest gene = MYBPC3, meta-p = 5.62 × 10−8). In a large ‘AD-by-proxy’ cohort from the UK Biobank, we replicated three of the four novel AD/CV pleiotropic SNPs, namely variants within MINK1, MBLAC1, and DDB2. Expression of MBLAC1, SPI1, MINK1 and DDB2 was differentially altered within postmortem AD brains. Beyond APOE, we show that the polygenic component of AD is enriched for lipid-associated RFs. We pinpoint a subset of cardiovascular-associated genes that strongly increase the risk for AD. Our collective findings support a disease model in which cardiovascular biology is integral to the development of clinical AD in a subset of individuals.

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We thank the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCSD and the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF for continued support and the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) for providing summary result data for these analyses. This work was supported by Grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH-AG046374, K01AG049152), Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium (U01 AG032984), National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Junior Investigator Award (RSD), RSNA Resident/Fellow Award (RSD), Foundation ASNR Alzheimer’s Imaging Grant (RSD), the Research Council of Norway (#213837, #225989, #223273, #237250/EU JPND), the South East Norway Health Authority (2013-123), Norwegian Health Association and the KG Jebsen Foundation.

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Correspondence to Iris J. Broce or Celeste M. Karch or Rahul S. Desikan.

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Conflict of interest

JBB served on advisory boards for Elan, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Avanir, Novartis, Genentech, and Eli Lilly and holds stock options in CorTechs Labs, Inc. and Human Longevity, Inc. AMD is a founder of and holds equity in CorTechs Labs, Inc., and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI), and receives research funding from General Electric Healthcare (GEHC). The terms of these arrangements have been reviewed and approved by the University of California, San Diego, in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

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Broce, I.J., Tan, C.H., Fan, C.C. et al. Dissecting the genetic relationship between cardiovascular risk factors and Alzheimer’s disease. Acta Neuropathol 137, 209–226 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00401-018-1928-6

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  • Lipids
  • Polygenic enrichment
  • Cardiovascular
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Genetic pleiotropy