Objective: The neuroanatomical profile of behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) suggests a common biological etiology of disease despite disparate pathologic causes; we investigated the genetic underpinnings of this selective regional vulnerability to identify new risk factors for bvFTD.
Methods: We used recently developed analytical techniques designed to address the limitations of genome-wide association studies to generate a protein interaction network of 63 bvFTD risk genes. We characterized this network using gene expression data from healthy and diseased human brain tissue, evaluating regional network expression patterns across the lifespan as well as the cell types and biological processes most affected in bvFTD.
Results: We found that bvFTD network genes show enriched expression across the human lifespan in vulnerable neuronal populations, are implicated in cell signaling, cell cycle, immune function, and development, and are differentially expressed in pathologically confirmed frontotemporal lobar degeneration cases. Five of the genes highlighted by our differential expression analyses, BAIAP2, ERBB3, POU2F2, SMARCA2, and CDC37, appear to be novel bvFTD risk loci.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the cumulative burden of common genetic variation in an interacting protein network expressed in specific brain regions across the lifespan may influence susceptibility to bvFTD.