Apolipoprotein E ε4 Mediates Myelin Breakdown by Targeting Oligodendrocytes in Sporadic Alzheimer Disease

Gerald Wai Yeung Cheng, Kingston King Shi Mok, Sunny Hoi Sang Yeung, Julia Kofler, Karl Herrup, Kai Hei Tse

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


White matter degradation in the frontal lobe is one of the earliest detectable changes in aging and Alzheimer disease. The ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E (APOE4) is strongly associated with such myelin pathology but the underlying cellular mechanisms remain obscure. We hypothesized that, as a lipid transporter, APOE4 directly triggers pathology in the cholesterol-rich myelin sheath independent of AD pathology. To test this, we performed immunohistochemistry on brain tissues from healthy controls, sporadic, and familial Alzheimer disease subjects. While myelin basic protein expression was largely unchanged, in frontal cortex the number of oligodendrocytes (OLs) was significantly reduced in APOE4 brains independent of their Braak stage or NIA-RI criteria. This high vulnerability of OLs was confirmed in humanized APOE3 or APOE4 transgenic mice. A gradual decline of OL numbers was found in the aging brain without associated neuronal loss. Importantly, the application of lipidated human APOE4, but not APOE3, proteins significantly reduced the formation of myelinating OL in primary cell culture derived from Apoe-knockout mice, especially in cholesterol-depleted conditions. Our findings suggest that the disruption of myelination in APOE4 carriers may represent a direct OL pathology, rather than an indirect consequence of amyloid plaque formation or neuronal loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-730
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2022


  • Alzheimer disease
  • Amyloid-independent
  • APOE4
  • Lipid transport
  • Myelin
  • Oligodendrocyte

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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