Recent findings suggest that the pathological effects of apoE4, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), start many years before the onset of the disease and are already detectable at a young age. In the present study we investigated the extent to which such pathological and cognitive impairments also occur in young apoE4 mice.
This study revealed that the levels of the presynaptic glutamatergic vesicular transporter, VGlut, in the CA3, CA1, and DG hippocampal subfields were lower in hippocampal neurons of young (4-month-old) apoE4-targeted replacement mice than in those of the apoE3 mice. In contrast, the corresponding inhibitory GABAergic nerve terminals and perikarya were not affected by apoE4.
This synaptic effect was associated with hyperphosphorylation of tau in these neurons. In addition, apoE4 increased the accumulation of neuronal Aβ42 and induced mitochondrial changes, both of which were specifically pronounced in CA3 neurons. Spatial navigation behavioral studies revealed that these hippocampal pathological effects of apoE4 are associated with corresponding behavioral impairments. Time-course studies revealed that the effects of apoE4 on tau hyperphosphorylation and the mitochondria were already apparent at the age of 1 month and that the apoE4-driven accumulation of neuronal Aβ and reduced VGlut levels evolve later and are apparent at the age of 2–4 months. Furthermore, the levels of tau phosphorylation decrease in apoE3 mice and increase in apoE4 mice between 1 and 4 months, whereas the levels of Aβ42 decrease in apoE3 mice and are not affected in apoE4 mice over the same time period.
These findings show that apoE4 stimulates the accumulation of Aβ42 and hyperphosphorylated tau and reduces the levels of VGlut in hippocampal neurons of young apoE4-targeted replacement mice and that these neurochemical effects are associated with cognitive impairments. This model is not associated with hypothesis-driven mechanistic manipulations and is thus most suitable for unbiased studies of the mechanisms underlying the pathological effects of apoE4.