Rare Individuals Exhibit Alzheimer's Pathology but No Symptoms

In a tissue bank of more than 5,000 donated brains, researchers found 12 in which there were signs of Alzheimer's disease pathology but for which the donors had exhibited none of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Here find a report on some of the biochemical differences found in these resilient brains; it is hoped that pursuing this line of research might aid in the understanding of the condition and strategies for the development of effective therapies.

Some individuals show a discrepancy between cognition and the amount of neuropathological changes characteristic for Alzheimer's disease (AD). This phenomenon has been referred to as 'resilience'. The molecular and cellular underpinnings of resilience remain poorly understood. To obtain an unbiased understanding of the molecular changes underlying resilience, we investigated global changes in gene expression in the superior frontal gyrus of a cohort of cognitively and pathologically well-defined AD patients, resilient individuals, and age-matched controls (nā€‰=ā€‰11-12 per group).

897 genes were significantly altered between AD and control, 1121 between resilient and control and 6 between resilient and AD. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) revealed that the expression of metallothionein (MT) and of genes related to mitochondrial processes was higher in the resilient donors. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) identified gene modules related to the unfolded protein response, mitochondrial processes and synaptic signaling to be differentially associated with resilience or dementia.

As changes in MT, mitochondria, heat shock proteins, and the unfolded protein response (UPR) were the most pronounced changes in the GSEA and/or WGCNA, immunohistochemistry was used to further validate these processes. MT was significantly increased in astrocytes in resilient individuals. A higher proportion of the mitochondrial gene MT-CO1 was detected outside the cell body versus inside the cell body in the resilient compared to the control group and there were higher levels of heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) and X-box-binding protein 1 spliced (XBP1s), two proteins related to heat shock proteins and the UPR, in the AD donors.

Finally, we show evidence for putative sex-specific alterations in resilience, including gene expression differences related to autophagy in females compared to males. Taken together, these results show possible mechanisms involving MTs, mitochondrial processes, and the UPR by which individuals might maintain cognition despite the presence of AD pathology.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40478-024-01760-9

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