Alzheimer's disease, the most frequent form of senile dementia, presents in the vast majority of cases as a multifactorial trait, where a series of genetic and environmental risk factors converge. The increasing body of data, both epidemiological and functional, is strengthening the evidence that apolipoprotein E (APOE, gene; apoE, protein) is a true susceptibility factor for the onset of the common form of Alzheimer's disease. The E4 isoform of apoE remains to date as the main genetic risk factor for the disease, although the mechanisms responsible for this association are not well understood. It is also clear that apoE4 is not necessary or sufficient to cause the disease, indicating that other risk and protecting factors exist. ApoE is upregulated in response to nervous system injury, suggesting that it could have a neuroprotective role; on the other hand, there is evidence indicating that apoE is neurotoxic when present at high levels. Thus, apoE levels seem to be relevant for the functionality of the protein. The APOE proximal promoter hosts numerous regulatory elements, raising the possibility that polymorphisms in this region could produce variation in apoE levels by altering APOE transcriptional activity, which could finally result in AD susceptibility. We will review here the current evidence on the relationship between APOE proximal promoter polymorphisms, APOE gene transcriptional activity and apoE protein levels, and risk for AD.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.