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Alzheimer's genetic risk effects on cerebral blood flow are spatially consistent and proximal to gene expression across the lifespan

By H.L Chandler, R.G Wise, D.E Linden, J Williams, K Murphy, T.M Lancaster, Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI)

Posted 05 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.31.424949

Cerebrovascular dysregulation is a hallmark feature of Alzheimers disease (AD), where alterations in cerebral blood flow (CBF) are observed decades prior to symptom onset. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) show that AD has a polygenic aetiology, providing a tool for studying AD susceptibility across the lifespan. Here, we ascertain whether AD genetic risk effects on CBF previously observed (Chandler et al., 2019) remain consistent across the lifespan. We further provide a causal mechanism to AD genetic risk scores (AD-GRS) effects by establishing spatial convergence between AD-GRS associated regional reductions in CBF and mRNA expression of the proximal AD transcripts using independent data from the Allen Brain Atlas. We analysed grey matter (GM) CBF in a young cohort (N=75; aged 18-35) and an older cohort (N=90; aged 55-85). Critically, we observed that AD-GRS was negatively associated with whole brain GM CBF in the older cohort (standardised {beta} -0.38 [-0.68 - -0.09], P = 0.012), consistent with our prior observation in younger healthy adults (Chandler et al., 2019). We then demonstrate that the regional impact of AD-GRS on GM CBF was spatially consistent across the younger and older samples (r = 0.233, P = 0.035). Finally, we show that CBF across the cortex was related to the regional expression of the genes proximal to SNPs used to estimate AD-GRS in both younger and older cohorts (ZTWO-TAILED = -1.99, P= 0.047; ZTWO-TAILED = -2.153 P = 0.032, respectively). These observations collectively demonstrate that AD risk alleles have a negative influence on brain vascular function and likely contribute to cerebrovascular changes preceding the onset of clinical symptoms, potentially driven by regional expression of proximal AD risk genes across the brain. Our observations suggest that reduced CBF is an early antecedent of AD and a key modifiable target for therapeutic intervention in individuals with a higher cumulative genetic risk for AD. This study will further enable identification of key molecular processes that underpin AD genetic risk related reductions in CBF that could be targeted decades prior to the onset of neurodegeneration.

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