Fragmentation of Apolipoprotein E4 is Required for Differential Expression of Inflammation and Activation Related Genes in Microglia Cells

Int J Neurodegener Dis. 2021;4(1):020. doi: 10.23937/2643-4539/1710020. Epub 2021 Sep 10.


The apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) allele represents the single greatest risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's disease (AD) and accumulating evidence suggests that fragmentation with a toxic-gain of function may be a key molecular step associated with this risk. Recently, we demonstrated strong immunoreactivity of a 151 amino-terminal fragment of apoE4 (E4-fragment) within the nucleus of microglia in the human AD brain. In vitro, this fragment led to toxicity and activation of inflammatory processes in BV2 microglia cells. Additionally, a transcriptome analysis following exogenous treatment of BV2 microglia cells with this E4 fragment led to a > 2-fold up regulation of 1,608 genes, with many genes playing a role in inflammation and microglia activation. To extend these findings, we here report a similar transcriptome analysis in BV2 microglia cells following treatment with full-length ApoE4 (FL-ApoE4). The results indicated that full-length ApoE4 had a very small effect on gene expression compared to the fragment. Only 48 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified (p < 0.05, and greater than 2-fold change). A gene ontology analysis of these DEGs indicated that they are not involved in inflammatory and activation processes, in contrast to the genes up regulated by the E4-fragment. In addition, genes that showed a negative fold-change upon FL-E4 treatment typically showed a strong positive fold-change upon treatment with the fragment (Pearson's r = -0.7). Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that a key step in the conversion of microglia to an activated phenotype is proteolytic cleavage of FL-ApoE4. Therefore, the neutralization of this amino-terminal fragment of ApoE4, specifically, may serve as an important therapeutic strategy in the treatment of AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Apolipoprotein E4; BV2 cells; Fragment of ApoE4; Inflammation; Microglia cells; RNA-seq; Toxicity; Transcriptome analysis.