Background: The APOE ε4 allele is the most significant common genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD). The region surrounding APOE on chromosome 19 has also shown consistent association with LOAD. However, no common variants in the region remain significant after adjusting for APOE genotype. We report a rare variant association analysis of genes in the vicinity of APOE with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and neuroimaging biomarkers of LOAD.
Methods: Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was performed on 817 blood DNA samples from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Sequence data from 757 non-Hispanic Caucasian participants was used in the present analysis. We extracted all rare variants (MAF (minor allele frequency) < 0.05) within a 312 kb window in APOE's vicinity encompassing 12 genes. We assessed CSF and neuroimaging (MRI and PET) biomarkers as LOAD-related quantitative endophenotypes. Gene-based analyses of rare variants were performed using the optimal Sequence Kernel Association Test (SKAT-O).
Results: A total of 3,334 rare variants (MAF < 0.05) were found within the APOE region. Among them, 72 rare non-synonymous variants were observed. Eight genes spanning the APOE region were significantly associated with CSF Aβ1-42 (p < 1.0 × 10-3). After controlling for APOE genotype and adjusting for multiple comparisons, 4 genes (CBLC, BCAM, APOE, and RELB) remained significant. Whole-brain surface-based analysis identified highly significant clusters associated with rare variants of CBLC in the temporal lobe region including the entorhinal cortex, as well as frontal lobe regions. Whole-brain voxel-wise analysis of amyloid PET identified significant clusters in the bilateral frontal and parietal lobes showing associations of rare variants of RELB with cortical amyloid burden.
Conclusions: Rare variants within genes spanning the APOE region are significantly associated with LOAD-related CSF Aβ1-42 and neuroimaging biomarkers after adjusting for APOE genotype. These findings warrant further investigation and illustrate the role of next generation sequencing and quantitative endophenotypes in assessing rare variants which may help explain missing heritability in AD and other complex diseases.
Keywords: ADNI; CSF; Near APOE; Neuroimaging; Rare variants; Whole genome sequencing.