Neuropathology-Independent Association between APOE Genotype and Cognitive Decline Rate in the Normal Aging-Early Alzheimer Continuum

Jing Qian, Yiding Zhang, Rebecca A. Betensky, Bradley T. Hyman, Alberto Serrano-Pozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and ObjectivesWe previously found that the APOE genotype affects the rate of cognitive decline in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer disease (AD) dementia independently of its effects on AD neuropathologic changes (ADNC) and copathologies. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the APOE alleles differentially affect the rate of cognitive decline at the normal aging-early AD continuum and that this association is independent of their effects on classical ADNC and copathologies.MethodsWe analyzed APOE associations with the cognitive trajectories (Clinical Dementia Rating scale Sum of Boxes [CDR-SOB] and Mini-Mental State Examination [MMSE]) of more than 1,000 individuals from a national clinicopathologic sample who had either no, mild (sparse neuritic plaques and the Braak neurofibrillary tangle [NFT] stage I/II), or intermediate (moderate neuritic plaques and the Braak NFT stage III/IV) ADNC levels at autopsy via 2 latent classes reverse-time longitudinal modeling.ResultsCarrying the APOEϵ4 allele was associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline by both CDR-SOB and MMSE relative to APOEϵ3 homozygotes. This association remained statistically significant after adjusting for ADNC severity, comorbid pathologies, and the effects of ADNC on the slope of cognitive decline. Our modeling strategy identified 2 latent classes in which APOEϵ4 carriers declined faster than APOEϵ3 homozygotes, with latent class 1 members representing slow decliners (CDR-SOB: 76.7% of individuals, 0.195 vs 0.146 points/y in APOEϵ4 vs APOEϵ3/ϵ3; MMSE: 88.6% of individuals, -0.303 vs -0.153 points/y in APOEϵ4 vs APOEϵ3/ϵ3), whereas latent class 2 members were fast decliners (CDR-SOB: 23.3% of participants, 1.536 vs 1.487 points/y in APOEϵ4 vs APOEϵ3/ϵ3; MMSE: 11.4% of participants, -2.538 vs -2.387 points/y in APOEϵ4 vs APOEϵ3/ϵ3). Compared with slow decliners, fast decliners were more likely to carry the APOEϵ4 allele, younger at initial visit and death, more impaired at initial and last visits, and more likely to have intermediate (vs none or mild) ADNC levels, as well as concurrent Lewy bodies and hippocampal sclerosis at autopsy.DiscussionIn a large national sample selected to represent the normal aging-early AD continuum, the APOEϵ4 allele is associated with a modest but statistically significant acceleration of the cognitive decline rate even after controlling for its effects on ADNC and comorbid pathologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere200055
JournalNeurology: Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 20 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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