APOEε4 potentiates the relationship between amyloid-β and tau pathologies

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Oct;26(10):5977-5988. doi: 10.1038/s41380-020-0688-6. Epub 2020 Mar 11.


APOEε4 is the most well-established genetic risk factor for sporadic Alzheimer's disease and is associated with cerebral amyloid-β. However, the association between APOEε4 and tau pathology, the other major proteinopathy of Alzheimer's disease, has been controversial. Here, we sought to determine whether the relationship between APOEε4 and tau pathology is determined by local interactions with amyloid-β. We examined three independent samples of cognitively unimpaired, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease subjects: (1) 211 participants who underwent tau-PET with [18F]MK6240 and amyloid-PET with [18F]AZD4694, (2) 264 individuals who underwent tau-PET with [18F]Flortaucipir and amyloid-PET with [18F]Florbetapir and (3) 487 individuals who underwent lumbar puncture and amyloid-PET with [18F]Florbetapir. Using a novel analytical framework, we applied voxel-wise regression models to assess the interactive effect of APOEε4 and amyloid-β on tau load, independently of age and clinical diagnosis. We found that the interaction effect between APOEε4 and amyloid-β, rather than the sum of their independent effects, was related to increased tau load in Alzheimer's disease-vulnerable regions. The interaction between one APOEε4 allele and amyloid-β was related to increased tau load, while the interaction between amyloid-β and two APOEε4 alleles was related to a more widespread pattern of tau aggregation. Our results contribute to an emerging framework in which the elevated risk of developing dementia conferred by APOEε4 genotype involves mechanisms associated with both amyloid-β and tau aggregation. These results may have implications for future disease-modifying therapeutic trials targeting amyloid or tau pathologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • tau Proteins / genetics


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • tau Proteins