Isoform-specific effects of human apolipoprotein E on brain function revealed in ApoE knockout mice: increased susceptibility of females

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Sep 1;95(18):10914-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.95.18.10914.


Apolipoprotein E (apoE) mediates the redistribution of lipids among cells and is expressed at highest levels in brain and liver. Human apoE exists in three major isoforms encoded by distinct alleles (epsilon2, epsilon3, and epsilon4). Compared with APOE epsilon2 and epsilon3, APOE epsilon4 increases the risk of cognitive impairments, lowers the age of onset of Alzheimer's disease (AD), and decreases the response to AD treatments. Besides age, inheritance of the APOE epsilon4 allele is the most important known risk factor for the development of sporadic AD, the most common form of this illness. Although numerous hypotheses have been advanced, it remains unclear how APOE epsilon4 might affect cognition and increase AD risk. To assess the effects of distinct human apoE isoforms on the brain, we have used the neuron-specific enolase (NSE) promoter to express human apoE3 or apoE4 at similar levels in neurons of transgenic mice lacking endogenous mouse apoE. Compared with NSE-apoE3 mice and wild-type controls, NSE-apoE4 mice showed impairments in learning a water maze task and in vertical exploratory behavior that increased with age and were seen primarily in females. These findings demonstrate that human apoE isoforms have differential effects on brain function in vivo and that the susceptibility to apoE4-induced deficits is critically influenced by age and gender. These results could be pertinent to cognitive impairments observed in human APOE epsilon4 carriers. NSE-apoE mice and similar models may facilitate the preclinical assessment of treatments for apoE-related cognitive deficits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Apolipoproteins E / metabolism
  • Apolipoproteins E / physiology*
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Maze Learning
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase / genetics
  • Sex Factors


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase