Integrated Systems Approach Reveals Sphingolipid Metabolism Pathway Dysregulation in Association with Late-Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Biology (Basel). 2018 Feb 9;7(1):16. doi: 10.3390/biology7010016.


Late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD) and age are significantly correlated such that one-third of Americans beyond 85 years of age are afflicted. We have designed and implemented a pilot study that combines systems biology approaches with traditional next-generation sequencing (NGS) analysis techniques to identify relevant regulatory pathways, infer functional relationships and confirm the dysregulation of these biological pathways in LOAD. Our study design is a most comprehensive systems approach combining co-expression network modeling derived from RNA-seq data, rigorous quality control (QC) standards, functional ontology, and expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) derived from whole exome (WES) single nucleotide variant (SNV) genotype data. Our initial results reveal several statistically significant, biologically relevant genes involved in sphingolipid metabolism. To validate these findings, we performed a gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA). The GSEA revealed the sphingolipid metabolism pathway and regulation of autophagy in association with LOAD cases. In the execution of this study, we have successfully tested an integrative approach to identify both novel and known LOAD drivers in order to develop a broader and more detailed picture of the highly complex transcriptional and regulatory landscape of age-related dementia.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; aging; autophagy; co-expression modeling; eQTL; gene set enrichment analysis; sphingolipid metabolism.