Supervised pathway analysis of blood gene expression profiles in Alzheimer's disease

Neurobiol Aging. 2019 Dec;84:98-108. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.07.004. Epub 2019 Jul 16.


Early identification and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is hampered by the lack of easily accessible biomarkers. Currently available fluid biomarkers of AD provide indications of the disease stage; however, these are measured in the cerebrospinal fluid, requiring invasive procedures, which are not applicable at the population level. Thus, gene expression profiling of blood provides a viable alternative as a way to screen individuals at risk of AD. Previous studies have shown that despite the limited permeability of the blood-brain barriers, expression profiles of blood genes can be used for the diagnosis and prognosis of several brain disorders. Here, we propose a new approach to pathway analysis of blood gene expression profiles to classify healthy (control [CTL]), mildly cognitively impaired (mild cognitive impairment [MCI]; preclinical stage of AD), and AD subjects. In the pathway analysis, gene expression data are mapped to pathway scores according to a predefined gene set instead of considering each gene separately. The robustness of the analysis enables detection of weak differences between groups owing to the inherent dimension reduction. Our proposed method for pathway analysis takes advantage of linear discriminant analysis for identifying a linear combination of features best separating groups of subjects within each gene set. The gene expression data were retrieved from Gene Expression Omnibus (batch 1: GSE63060; batch 2: GSE63061). Predefined gene sets for pathway analysis were obtained from the Broad Institute Collection of Curated Pathways. The method achieved a 10-fold cross-validated area under receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.84 for classification of AD versus CTL and 0.80 for classification of mild cognitive impairment versus CTL. These results reveal the good potential of blood-based biomarkers for assisting early diagnosis and disease monitoring of AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Gene expression; Linear discriminant analysis; Mild cognitive impairment; Pathway analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans


  • Biomarkers