Novel Alzheimer risk genes determine the microglia response to amyloid-β but not to TAU pathology

EMBO Mol Med. 2020 Mar 6;12(3):e10606. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201910606. Epub 2020 Jan 17.


Polygenic risk scores have identified that genetic variants without genome-wide significance still add to the genetic risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD). Whether and how subthreshold risk loci translate into relevant disease pathways is unknown. We investigate here the involvement of AD risk variants in the transcriptional responses of two mouse models: APPswe/PS1L166P and Thy-TAU22. A unique gene expression module, highly enriched for AD risk genes, is specifically responsive to Aβ but not TAU pathology. We identify in this module 7 established AD risk genes (APOE, CLU, INPP5D, CD33, PLCG2, SPI1, and FCER1G) and 11 AD GWAS genes below the genome-wide significance threshold (GPC2, TREML2, SYK, GRN, SLC2A5, SAMSN1, PYDC1, HEXB, RRBP1, LYN, and BLNK), that become significantly upregulated when exposed to Aβ. Single microglia sequencing confirms that Aβ, not TAU, pathology induces marked transcriptional changes in microglia, including increased proportions of activated microglia. We conclude that genetic risk of AD functionally translates into different microglia pathway responses to Aβ pathology, placing AD genetic risk downstream of the amyloid pathway but upstream of TAU pathology.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; RNA-seq; genetic risk; microglia; single cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia* / metabolism
  • tau Proteins* / metabolism


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • tau Proteins

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE110741
  • GEO/GSE142267