Apolipoprotein E Affects Both Myelin Breakdown and Cognition: Implications for Age-Related Trajectories of Decline Into Dementia

George Bartzokis, Po H. Lu, Daniel H. Geschwind, Kathleen Tingus, Danny Huang, Mario F. Mendez, Nancy Edwards, Jim Mintz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Background: Age-related myelin breakdown is most evident in later-myelinating white matter (LMwm) brain regions. This process might degrade cognitive processing speed (CPS) underlying age-related cognitive decline and the predominance of age as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) 4 allele is the second most important AD risk factor. We tested the hypothesis that ApoE4 accelerates age-related slowing in CPS through the process of myelin breakdown. Methods: Calculated transverse relaxation rates (R2), an indirect magnetic resonance imaging measure of myelin breakdown in LMwm, and measures of CPS were obtained in 22 ApoE4+ and 80 ApoE4-, healthy "younger-old" individuals. To assess specificity, contrasting early-myelinating white matter region and memory task were also examined. Results: The CPS versus LMwm R2 remained significant in the ApoE4+ group even after age was statistically adjusted (r = .65, p = .001) and differed from the correlation observed in the ApoE4- group (Fisher's z test = 3.22, p < .002). No significant associations were observed with the contrast region and memory task in either ApoE subgroup. Conclusions: A specific association between CPS and myelin breakdown in LMwm exists in asymptomatic "younger-old" individuals at increased genetic risk for AD. Although inferences of change over time and causality are limited by the cross-sectional study design, this finding lends support to the hypotheses that myelin breakdown underlies age-related slowing in CPS and that by altering the trajectory of myelin breakdown, ApoE alleles shift the age at onset of cognitive decline. Combined use of biomarkers and CPS measures might be useful in developing and targeting primary prevention treatments for AD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1380-1387
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Age
  • Alzheimer
  • ApoE
  • MRI
  • R
  • T
  • apolipoprotein
  • brain
  • breakdown
  • cognition
  • dementia
  • myelin
  • onset
  • prevention
  • processing
  • risk
  • speed
  • treatment
  • white matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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