Background: Several lines of evidence suggest the involvement of neuroinflammatory changes in Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathophysiology such as amyloidosis and neurodegeneration. In fact, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have shown a link between genes involved in neuroinflammation and AD. In order to further investigate whether interactions between candidate genetic variances coding for neuroinflammatory molecules are associated with brain amyloid β (Aβ) fibrillary accumulation, we conducted an epistasis analysis on a pool of genes associated with molecular mediators of inflammation.
Methods: [(18)F]Florbetapir positron emission tomography (PET) imaging was employed to assess brain Aβ levels in 417 participants from ADNI-GO/2 and posteriorly 174 from ADNI-1. IL-1β, IL4, IL6, IL6r, IL10, IL12, IL18, C5, and C9 genes were chosen based on previous studies conducted in AD patients. Using the [(18)F]florbetapir standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR) as a quantitative measure of fibrillary Aβ, epistasis analyses were performed between two sets of markers of immune-related genes using gender, diagnosis, and apolipoprotein E (APOE) as covariates. Voxel-based analyses were also conducted. The results were corrected for multiple comparison tests. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ1-42/phosphorylated tau (p-tau) ratio concentrations were used to confirm such associations.
Results: Epistasis analysis unveiled two significant single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-SNP interactions (false discovery rate (FDR) threshold 0.1), both interactions between C9 gene (rs261752) and IL6r gene (rs4240872, rs7514452). In a combined sample, the interactions were confirmed (p ≤ 10-5) and associated with amyloid accumulation within cognitively normal and AD spectrum groups. Voxel-based analysis corroborated initial findings. CSF biomarker (Aβ1-42/p-tau) confirmed the genetic interaction. Additionally, rs4240872 and rs7514452 SNPs were shown to be associated with CSF and plasma concentrations of IL6r protein.
Conclusions: Certain allele combinations involving IL6r and C9 genes are associated with Aβ burden in the brain. Hypothesis-driven search for epistasis is a valuable strategy for investigating imaging endophenotypes in complex neurodegenerative diseases.