Copy Number Variants in miR-138 as a Potential Risk Factor for Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease

J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;68(3):1243-1255. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180940.


Early-onset Alzheimer's disease (EOAD) accounts for 5-10% of all AD cases, with a heritability ranging between 92% to 100%. With the exception of rare mutations in APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2 genes causing autosomal dominant EOAD, little is known about the genetic factors underlying most of the EOAD cases. In this study, we hypothesized that copy number variations (CNVs) in microRNA (miR) genes could contribute to risk for EOAD. miRs are short non-coding RNAs previously implicated in the regulation of AD-related genes and phenotypes. Using whole exome sequencing, we screened a series of 546 EOAD patients negative for autosomal dominant EOAD mutations and 597 controls. We identified 86 CNVs in miR genes of which 31 were exclusive to EOAD cases, including a duplication of the MIR138-2 locus. In functional studies in human cultured cells, we could demonstrate that miR-138 overexpression leads to higher Aβ production as well as tau phosphorylation, both implicated in AD pathophysiology. These changes were mediated in part by GSK-3β and FERMT2, a potential risk factor for AD. Additional disease-related genes were also prone to miR-138 regulation including APP and BACE1. This study suggests that increased gene dosage of MIR138-2 could contribute to risk for EOAD by regulating different biological pathways implicated in amyloid and tau metabolism. Additional studies are now required to better understand the role of miR-CNVs in EOAD.

Keywords: Copy number variants; early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; miR-138; microRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Copy Number Variations / genetics
  • Exome Sequencing
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Risk Factors


  • MIRN138 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs

Grant support