Identifying Vulnerable Brain Networks in Mouse Models of Genetic Risk Factors for Late Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Front Neuroinform. 2019 Dec 10;13:72. doi: 10.3389/fninf.2019.00072. eCollection 2019.


The major genetic risk for late onset Alzheimer's disease has been associated with the presence of APOE4 alleles. However, the impact of different APOE alleles on the brain aging trajectory, and how they interact with the brain local environment in a sex specific manner is not entirely clear. We sought to identify vulnerable brain circuits in novel mouse models with homozygous targeted replacement of the mouse ApoE gene with either human APOE3 or APOE4 gene alleles. These genes are expressed in mice that also model the human immune response to age and disease-associated challenges by expressing the human NOS2 gene in place of the mouse mNos2 gene. These mice had impaired learning and memory when assessed with the Morris water maze (MWM) and novel object recognition (NOR) tests. Ex vivo MRI-DTI analyses revealed global and local atrophy, and areas of reduced fractional anisotropy (FA). Using tensor network principal component analyses for structural connectomes, we inferred the pairwise connections which best separate APOE4 from APOE3 carriers. These involved primarily interhemispheric connections among regions of olfactory areas, the hippocampus, and the cerebellum. Our results also suggest that pairwise connections may be subdivided and clustered spatially to reveal local changes on a finer scale. These analyses revealed not just genotype, but also sex specific differences. Identifying vulnerable networks may provide targets for interventions, and a means to stratify patients.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; diffusion tensor (DT) MRI; magnetic resonance imaging; morphometric; mouse model; neurodegeneration; tract based analysis; tractography.