Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) represents a cognitive state intermediate between normal aging and early Alzheimer's disease (AD). To investigate if the molecular signature of MCI parallels the clinical picture, we use microarrays to extensively profile gene expression in 4 cortical brain regions (entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, superior frontal gyrus, post-central gyrus) using the postmortem tissue from cognitively normal aged controls, MCI, and AD cases. Our data reveal that gene expression patterns in MCI are not an extension of aging, and for the most part, are not intermediate between aged controls and AD. Functional enrichment analysis of significant genes revealed prominent upregulation in MCI brains of genes associated with anabolic and biosynthetic pathways (notably transcription, protein biosynthesis, protein trafficking, and turnover) as well as mitochondrial energy generation. In addition, many synaptic genes showed altered expression in MCI, predominantly upregulation, including genes for central components of the vesicle fusion machinery at the synapse, synaptic vesicle trafficking, neurotransmitter receptors, and synaptic structure and stabilization. These data suggest that there is a rebalancing of synaptic transmission in the MCI brain. To investigate if synaptic gene expression levels in MCI were related to cognitive function, Pearson correlation coefficient between the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) and region-specific messenger RNA expression were computed for MCI cases. A number of synaptic genes showed strong significant correlations (r > 0.8, p < 0.01) most notably in the entorhinal cortex, with fewer in the hippocampus, and very few in neocortical regions. The synaptic genes with highly significant correlations were predominantly related to synaptic transmission and plasticity, and myelin composition. Unexpectedly, we found that gene expression changes that facilitate synaptic excitability and plasticity were overwhelmingly associated with poorer MMSE, and conversely that gene expression changes that inhibit plasticity were positively associated with MMSE. These data suggest that there are excessive excitability and apparent plasticity in limbic brain regions in MCI, that is associated with impaired synaptic and cognitive function. Such changes would be predicted to contribute to increased excitability, in turn leading to greater metabolic demand and ultimately progressive degeneration and AD, if not controlled.
Keywords: Electron transport; Entorhinal cortex; Hippocampus; Microarray; Mitochondria; Neurotransmitter receptor; SNARE; Somatosensory cortex; Superior frontal gyrus; Synapse.
Published by Elsevier Inc.