Genetic Vulnerability in Alzheimer’s Disease

by Richard Liang ’18

Figure 1: This is a comparison of the outer surfaces of brains for a normal individual versus an individual with Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s disease is a major neurodegenerative condition, with individuals usually developing symptoms at ages above 65. Symptoms include impaired memory, speech, and other mental functions. Alzheimer’s has shown a correlation with increasing aggregates of Amyloid-β plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). However, it is difficult to predict whether and at what time these plaques and tangles will be expressed in an individual. In a recent study led by Rosie Freer and her team of researchers from the Department of Chemistry in the University of Cambridge, specific genes were linked to increased vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study involved performing a transcriptome-wide microarray analysis of more than 500 healthy brain tissues by studying all sets of messenger RNA in the cells of these tissues. The Braak Staging method was then used to monitor the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the healthy tissues. This method involved comparing the physical condition of the brain to predetermined stages of Alzheimer’s disease and monitoring brain regions for the appearance of NFTs, which correlate with neuronal loss. The genetic expression of these tissues were quantified and analyzed during this process.

The results of this study suggest a correlation between the expression of certain genes and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In tissues that showed increased vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease, genes corresponding to regulating Amyloid-β and tau proteins were overexpressed. Even in healthy tissues, these genes were being overexpressed in a manner similar to tissues with Alzheimer’s disease. With this new information, Alzheimer’s disease can be better diagnosed and preparations can be made for patients who have an increased vulnerability to the disease.


  1. R. Freer, et al., A protein homeostasis signature in healthy brains recapitulates tissue vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease. Science Advancements (2016).
  2. Image retrieved from:

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