APOE4 derived from astrocytes leads to blood-brain barrier impairment

Brain. 2021 Dec 27;awab478. doi: 10.1093/brain/awab478. Online ahead of print.


Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) is a multifaceted secreted molecule synthesized in the CNS by astrocytes and microglia, and in the periphery largely by the liver. ApoE has been shown to impact the integrity of the blood brain barrier, and, in humans, the APOE4 allele of the gene is reported to lead to a leaky blood brain barrier. We used allele specific knock-in mice expressing each of the common (human) ApoE alleles, and longitudinal multiphoton intravital microscopy, to directly monitor the impact of various ApoE isoforms on blood brain barrier integrity. We found that humanized APOE4, but not APOE2 or APOE3, mice show a leaky blood brain barrier, increased MMP9, impaired tight junctions, and reduced astrocyte end-foot coverage of blood vessels. Removal of astrocyte-produced ApoE4 led to the amelioration of all phenotypes while the removal of astrocyte-produced ApoE3 had no effect on blood brain barrier integrity. This work shows a cell specific gain of function effect of ApoE4 in the dysfunction of the BBB and implicates astrocyte production of ApoE4, possibly as a function of astrocytic end foot interactions with vessels, as a key regulator of the integrity of the blood brain barrier.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; apolipoprotein E; astrocytes; blood–brain barrier.