Background: ABCA7 was identified as a risk gene for Alzheimer's disease in genome-wide association studies (GWAS). It was one of the genes most strongly associated with risk of Alzheimer's disease in a Belgian cohort. Using targeted resequencing, we investigated ABCA7 in this cohort with the aim to directly detect rare and common variations in this gene associated with Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis.
Methods: We did massive parallel resequencing of ABCA7 after HaloPlex target enrichment of the exons, introns, and regulatory regions in 772 unrelated patients with Alzheimer's disease (mean age at onset 74·6 years [SD 8·9]) recruited at two memory clinics in Flanders, Belgium, and 757 geographically matched community-dwelling controls (mean age at inclusion 73·9 years [8·0]). After bioinformatic processing, common variants were analysed with conditional logistic regression and rare variant association analysis was done in Variant Association Tools. To explore an observed founder effect, additional unrelated patients with Alzheimer's disease (n=183, mean age at onset 78·8 years [SD 6·0]) and control individuals (n=265, mean age at inclusion 56·9 years [10·8]) from the same cohort who had not been included in massive parallel resequencing because of insufficient biosamples were screened for the ABCA7 frameshift mutation Glu709fs with Sanger sequencing. The effect of loss-of-function mutations on ABCA7 expression was investigated with quantitative real-time PCR in post-mortem brains of patients (n=3) and control individuals (n=4); nonsense mediated mRNA decay was investigated in lymphoblast cell lines from three predicted loss-of-function mutation carriers from the cohort of 772 patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Findings: An intronic low-frequency variant rs78117248 (minor allele frequency 3·8% in 58 patients with Alzheimer's disease and in controls 1·8% in 28 controls) showed strongest association with Alzheimer's disease (odds ratio 2·07, 95% CI 1·31-3·27; p=0·0016), and remained significant after conditioning for the GWAS top single nucleotide polymorphisms rs3764650, rs4147929, and rs3752246 (2·00, 1·22-3·26; p=0·006). We identified an increased frequency of predicted loss-of-function mutations in the patients compared with the controls (relative risk 4·03, 95% CI 1·75-9·29; p=0·0002). One frameshift mutation (Glu709fs) showed a founder effect in the study population, and was found to segregate with disease in a family with autosomal dominant inheritance of Alzheimer's disease. Expression of ABCA7 was reduced in the two carriers of loss-of-function mutations found only in patients with Alzheimer's disease (Glu709fs and Trp1214*) compared with four non-carrier controls (relative expression 0·45, 95% CI 0·25-0·84; p=0·002) and in lymphoblast cell lines from three carriers of Glu709fs compared with those from two non-carrier controls.
Interpretation: We propose that a low-frequency variant can explain the association between ABCA7 and Alzheimer's disease, and the evidence of loss-of-function mutations in this risk gene suggests that partial loss-of-function of ABCA7 could be a potential pathogenetic mechanism of Alzheimer's disease.
Funding: Belgian Science Policy Office Interuniversity Attraction Poles program P7/16, Alzheimer Research Foundation, King Baudouin Foundation AB Fund, Methusalem Excellence Program initiative of the Flemish Government, Flanders Impulse Program on Networks for Dementia Research, Research Foundation Flanders, Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology Flanders, University of Antwerp Research Fund, and European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Technological development and Demonstration (AgedBrainSYSBIO).
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