Apolipoprotein E: from cardiovascular disease to neurodegenerative disorders

J Mol Med (Berl). 2016 Jul;94(7):739-46. doi: 10.1007/s00109-016-1427-y. Epub 2016 Jun 9.


Apolipoprotein (apo) E was initially described as a lipid transport protein and major ligand for low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors with a role in cholesterol metabolism and cardiovascular disease. It has since emerged as a major risk factor (causative gene) for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Detailed understanding of the structural features of the three isoforms (apoE2, apoE3, and apoE4), which differ by only a single amino acid interchange, has elucidated their unique functions. ApoE2 and apoE4 increase the risk for heart disease: apoE2 increases atherogenic lipoprotein levels (it binds poorly to LDL receptors), and apoE4 increases LDL levels (it binds preferentially to triglyceride-rich, very low density lipoproteins, leading to downregulation of LDL receptors). ApoE4 also increases the risk for neurodegenerative diseases, decreases their age of onset, or alters their progression. ApoE4 likely causes neurodegeneration secondary to its abnormal structure, caused by an interaction between its carboxyl- and amino-terminal domains, called domain interaction. When neurons are stressed or injured, they synthesize apoE to redistribute cholesterol for neuronal repair or remodeling. However, because of its altered structure, neuronal apoE4 undergoes neuron-specific proteolysis, generating neurotoxic fragments (12-29 kDa) that escape the secretory pathway and cause mitochondrial dysfunction and cytoskeletal alterations, including tau phosphorylation. ApoE4-associated pathology can be prevented by small-molecule structure correctors that block domain interaction by converting apoE4 to a molecule that resembles apoE3 both structurally and functionally. Structure correctors are a potential therapeutic approach to reduce apoE4 pathology in both cardiovascular and neurological disorders.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; ApoE; Atherosclerosis; Cholesterol; Small-molecule structure correctors.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apolipoprotein E2 / genetics*
  • Apolipoprotein E2 / metabolism
  • Apolipoprotein E3 / chemistry
  • Apolipoprotein E3 / genetics*
  • Apolipoprotein E3 / metabolism
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / chemistry
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / genetics*
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / genetics
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / genetics
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs
  • Receptors, LDL / genetics
  • Receptors, LDL / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • tau Proteins / genetics*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Apolipoprotein E2
  • Apolipoprotein E3
  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • MAPT protein, human
  • Receptors, LDL
  • tau Proteins
  • Cholesterol