Apolipoprotein E Isoform-specific changes related to stress and trauma exposure

Transl Psychiatry. 2022 Mar 28;12(1):125. doi: 10.1038/s41398-022-01848-7.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a highly prevalent mental health disorder. Due to the high level of variability in susceptibility and severity, PTSD therapies are still insufficient. In addition to environmental exposures, genetic risks play a prominent role and one such factor is apolipoprotein E. The protein (apoE) is functionally involved in cholesterol transport and metabolism and exists as 3 major isoforms in humans: E2, E3, and E4. To model the role of apolipoprotein E isoform in stress-related changes in behavior and cognition, female and male mice (3-5 months of age) expressing E2, E3, or E4 were used. Mice were either placed into control groups or exposed to chronic variable stress (CVS), which has been shown to induce PTSD-like behavioral and neuroendocrine changes. E2 mice showed a unique response to CVS compared to E3 and E4 mice that included impaired spatial learning and memory, increased adrenal gland weight, and no increase in glucocorticoid receptor protein levels (normalized to apoE levels). In addition, the cholesterol metabolite 7-ketocholesterol was elevated in the cortex after CVS in E3 and E4, but not E2 female mice. E2 confers unique changes in behavioral, cognitive, and biomarker profiles after stress exposure and identify 7-ketocholesterol as a possible novel biomarker of the traumatic stress response. We further explored the relationship between E2 and PTSD in an understudied population by genotyping 102 patients of Cambodian and Vietnamese ethnicity. E2 carriers demonstrated a higher odds ratio of having a PTSD diagnosis compared to E3/E3 carriers, supporting that the E2 genotype is associated with PTSD diagnosis after trauma exposure in this population.

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

  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins E* / genetics
  • Cholesterol
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / genetics


  • ApoE protein, human
  • Apoe protein, mouse
  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Cholesterol