Gene-gene interactions among coding genes of iron-homeostasis proteins and APOE-alleles in cognitive impairment diseases

Veronica Tisato, Giovanni Zuliani, Marco Vigliano, Giovanna Longo, Eugenia Franchini, Paola Secchiero, Giorgio Zauli, Elvezia Maria Paraboschi, Ajay Vikram Singh, Maria Luisa Serino, Beatrice Ortolani, Amedeo Zurlo, Cristina Bosi, Antonio Greco, Davide Seripa, Rosanna Asselta, Donato Gemmati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive impairments of different aetiology share alterations in iron and lipid homeostasis with mutual relationships. Since iron and cholesterol accumulation impact on neurodegenerative disease, the associated gene variants are appealing candidate targets for risk and disease progression assessment. In this light, we explored the role of common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the main iron homeostasis genes and in the main lipoprotein transporter gene (APOE) in a cohort of 765 patients with dementia of different origin: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) n = 276; vascular dementia (VaD), n = 255; mild cognitive impairment (MCI), n = 234; and in normal controls (n = 1086). In details, four genes of iron homeostasis (Hemochromatosis (HFE: C282Y, H63D), Ferroportin (FPN1: -8CG), Hepcidin (HAMP: -582AG), Transferrin (TF: P570S)), and the three major alleles of APOE (APOE2, APOE3, APOE4) were analyzed to explore causative interactions and synergies. In single analysis, HFE 282Y allele yielded a 3-fold risk reduction in the whole cohort of patients (P<0.0001), confirmed in AD and VaD, reaching a 5-fold risk reduction in MCI (P = 0.0019). The other iron SNPs slightly associated with risk reduction whereas APOE4 allele resulted in increased risk, reaching more than 7-fold increased risk in AD homozygotes (P = 0.001), confirmed to a lower extent in VaD and MCI (P = 0.038 and P = 0.013 respectively) as well as in the whole group (P<0.0001). Comparisons of Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) among AD showed appreciable lowering in APOE4 carriers (P = 0.038), confirmed in the whole cohort of patients (P = 0.018). In interaction analysis, the HFE 282Y allele completely extinguished the APOE4 allele associated risk. Conversely, the coexistence in patients of a substantial number of iron SNPs accrued the APOE4 detrimental effect on MMSE. Overall, the analysis highlighted how a specific iron-allele burden, defined as different combinations of iron gene variants, might have different effects on cognitive impairment and might modulate the effects of established genetic risk factors such as APOE4. Our results suggest that established genetic risk factors might be affected by specific genetic backgrounds, making patients differently suited to manage iron accumulation adding new genetic insights in neurodegeneration. The recently recognized interconnections between iron and lipids, suggest that these pathways might share more than expected. We therefore extended to additional iron gene variants the newly proposed influencing mechanisms that HFE gene has on cholesterol metabolism. Our results have a strong translational potential promoting new pharmacogenetics studies on therapeutic target identification aimed at optimally tuning brain iron levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0193867
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Gene-gene interactions among coding genes of iron-homeostasis proteins and APOE-alleles in cognitive impairment diseases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this