Associations Between APOE Variants, Tau and α-Synuclein

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019;1184:177-186. doi: 10.1007/978-981-32-9358-8_15.


Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the aggregation and deposition of misfolded proteins in the brain, most prominently amyloid-β (Aβ), tau and α-synuclein (α-syn), and are thus referred to as proteinopathies. While tau is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other non-AD tauopathies, and α-synuclein is the pathological feature of the spectrum of synucleinopathies including Parkinson's disease (PD), Parkinson's disease with dementia (PDD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), the presence of co-pathologies is very frequent in all these diseases. Positive and synergistic associations between the different types of protein deposits have been reported, leading to worse prognosis and cognitive decline. A large variation in phenotypic clinical presentation of these diseases, largely due to the frequent presence of co-pathologies, makes differential diagnosis challenging. The observed clinico-pathological overlaps suggest common underlying mechanisms, in part due to shared genetic risk factors. The ε4 allele of the apolipoprotein (APOE) gene is one of the major genetic risk factors for the sporadic forms of proteinopathies, but the biological mechanisms linking APOE, tau and α-syn are not fully understood. This chapter describes current experimental evidence on the relationships between APOE variants, tau and α-syn, from clinical studies on fluid biomarkers and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, and from basic experimental studies in cellular/molecular biology and animal models. The chapter focuses on recent advances and identifies knowledge gaps. In particular, no PET tracer for assessment of brain α-syn deposits is yet available, although it is subject of intense research and development, therefore experimental evidence on in vivo α-syn levels is based on measures in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma. Moreover, tau PET imaging studies comparing the patterns of tracer retention in synucleinopathies versus in other proteinopathies are scarce and much is still unknown regarding the relationships between APOE variants and fluid and/or imaging biomarkers of tau and α-syn. Further research incorporating multimodal imaging, fluid biomarkers and genetic factors will help elucidate the biological mechanisms underlying these proteinopathies, and contribute to differential diagnosis and patient stratification for clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lewy Body Disease / genetics
  • Lewy Body Disease / metabolism
  • Lewy Body Disease / pathology
  • Parkinson Disease / genetics
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Synucleinopathies / genetics*
  • Synucleinopathies / metabolism*
  • Synucleinopathies / pathology
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Biomarkers
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • tau Proteins