PLXNA4 is associated with Alzheimer disease and modulates tau phosphorylation

Ann Neurol. 2014 Sep;76(3):379-92. doi: 10.1002/ana.24219. Epub 2014 Jul 29.


Objective: Much of the genetic basis for Alzheimer disease (AD) is unexplained. We sought to identify novel AD loci using a unique family-based approach that can detect robust associations with infrequent variants (minor allele frequency < 0.10).

Methods: We conducted a genome-wide association study in the Framingham Heart Study (discovery) and NIA-LOAD (National Institute on Aging-Late-Onset Alzheimer Disease) Study (replication) family-based cohorts using an approach that accounts for family structure and calculates a risk score for AD as the outcome. Links between the most promising gene candidate and AD pathogenesis were explored in silico as well as experimentally in cell-based models and in human brain.

Results: Genome-wide significant association was identified with a PLXNA4 single nucleotide polymorphism (rs277470) located in a region encoding the semaphorin-3A (SEMA3A) binding domain (meta-analysis p value [meta-P] = 4.1 × 10(-8) ). A test for association with the entire region was also significant (meta-P = 3.2 × 10(-4) ). Transfection of SH-SY5Y cells or primary rat neurons with full-length PLXNA4 (TS1) increased tau phosphorylation with stimulated by SEMA3A. The opposite effect was observed when cells were transfected with shorter isoforms (TS2 and TS3). However, transfection of any isoform into HEK293 cells stably expressing amyloid β (Aβ) precursor protein (APP) did not result in differential effects on APP processing or Aβ production. Late stage AD cases (n = 9) compared to controls (n = 5) had 1.9-fold increased expression of TS1 in cortical brain tissue (p = 1.6 × 10(-4) ). Expression of TS1 was significantly correlated with the Clinical Dementia Rating score (ρ = 0.75, p = 2.2 × 10(-4) ), plaque density (ρ = 0.56, p = 0.01), and Braak stage (ρ = 0.54, p = 0.02).

Interpretation: Our results indicate that PLXNA4 has a role in AD pathogenesis through isoform-specific effects on tau phosphorylation.

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*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism*
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pedigree
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Phosphorylation / physiology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • Plxna4 protein, human
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • tau Proteins