Age-specific epigenetic drift in late-onset Alzheimer's disease

PLoS One. 2008 Jul 16;3(7):e2698. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002698.


Despite an enormous research effort, most cases of late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD) still remain unexplained and the current biomedical science is still a long way from the ultimate goal of revealing clear risk factors that can help in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the disease. Current theories about the development of LOAD hinge on the premise that Alzheimer's arises mainly from heritable causes. Yet, the complex, non-Mendelian disease etiology suggests that an epigenetic component could be involved. Using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry in post-mortem brain samples and lymphocytes, we have performed an analysis of DNA methylation across 12 potential Alzheimer's susceptibility loci. In the LOAD brain samples we identified a notably age-specific epigenetic drift, supporting a potential role of epigenetic effects in the development of the disease. Additionally, we found that some genes that participate in amyloid-beta processing (PSEN1, APOE) and methylation homeostasis (MTHFR, DNMT1) show a significant interindividual epigenetic variability, which may contribute to LOAD predisposition. The APOE gene was found to be of bimodal structure, with a hypomethylated CpG-poor promoter and a fully methylated 3'-CpG-island, that contains the sequences for the epsilon4-haplotype, which is the only undisputed genetic risk factor for LOAD. Aberrant epigenetic control in this CpG-island may contribute to LOAD pathology. We propose that epigenetic drift is likely to be a substantial mechanism predisposing individuals to LOAD and contributing to the course of disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / chemistry
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Haplotypes
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides