Objective: The APOE4 allele is the strongest genetic risk factor for sporadic Alzheimer disease (AD). Case-control studies suggest the APOE4 link to AD is stronger in women. We examined the APOE4-by-sex interaction in conversion risk (from healthy aging to mild cognitive impairment (MCI)/AD or from MCI to AD) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarker levels.
Methods: Cox proportional hazards analysis was used to compute hazard ratios (HRs) for an APOE-by-sex interaction on conversion in controls (n = 5,496) and MCI patients (n = 2,588). The interaction was also tested in CSF biomarker levels of 980 subjects from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.
Results: Among controls, male and female carriers were more likely to convert to MCI/AD, but the effect was stronger in women (HR = 1.81 for women; HR = 1.27 for men; interaction: p = 0.011). The interaction remained significant in a predefined subanalysis restricted to APOE3/3 and APOE3/4 genotypes. Among MCI patients, both male and female APOE4 carriers were more likely to convert to AD (HR = 2.16 for women; HR = 1.64 for men); the interaction was not significant (p = 0.14). In the subanalysis restricted to APOE3/3 and APOE3/4 genotypes, the interaction was significant (p = 0.02; HR = 2.17 for women; HR = 1.51 for men). The APOE4-by-sex interaction on biomarker levels was significant for MCI patients for total tau and the tau-to-Aβ ratio (p = 0.009 and p = 0.02, respectively; more AD-like in women).
Interpretation: APOE4 confers greater AD risk in women. Biomarker results suggest that increased APOE-related risk in women may be associated with tau pathology. These findings have important clinical implications and suggest novel research approaches into AD pathogenesis.
© 2014 American Neurological Association.