ApoE4 disrupts sterol and sphingolipid metabolism in Alzheimer's but not normal brain

Neurobiol Aging. 2009 Apr;30(4):591-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.07.024. Epub 2007 Sep 20.


The epsilon 4 allele of ApoE is associated with an earlier onset and faster progression of Alzheimer's disease in patients with the familial form of this neurodegenerative condition. Although ApoE4 has been repeatedly associated with altered sphingomyelin and cholesterol levels in tissue culture and rodent models, there has not been a direct quantification of sphingomyelin or sterol levels in the brains of patients with different forms of ApoE. We measured the sphingolipid and sterol content of human brain tissues and found no evidence of perturbed sterol or sphingolipid biochemistry in the brains of individuals expressing ApoE4 who did not have a preexisting neurodegenerative condition. Nevertheless, ApoE4 was associated with gross abnormalities in the sterol and sphingolipid content of numerous brain regions in patients with Alzheimer's disease. The findings suggest that ApoE4 may not by itself alter sterol or sphingolipid metabolism in the brain under normal conditions, but that other neuropathologic changes of Alzheimer's are required to unmask the effect of ApoE4, and to perturb sterol and sphingolipid biochemistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / genetics
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / metabolism*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Chemistry / genetics
  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurochemistry / methods
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Sterols / metabolism*


  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Ceramides
  • Sphingolipids
  • Sterols
  • Cholesterol