Genetic studies have provided the best evidence for cause and effect relationships in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Indeed, the identification of deterministic mutations in the APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2 genes and subsequent preclinical studies linking these mutations to alterations in Aβ production and aggregation have provided pivotal support for the amyloid cascade hypothesis. In addition, genetic, pathologic and biological studies of APOE have also indicated that the genetic risk for AD associated with APOE4 can be attributed, at least in part, to its pro-amyloidogenic effect on Aβ. In recent years a number of SNPs that show unequivocal genome-wide association with AD risk have implicated novel genetic loci as modifiers of AD risk. However, the functional implications of these genetic associations are largely unknown. For almost all of these associations, the functional variants have not been identified. Very recently, two large consortiums demonstrated that rare variants in the triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2) gene confer significant risk for AD. TREM2 is a type 1 membrane receptor protein primarily expressed on microglia in the central nervous system that has been shown to regulate phagocytosis and activation of monocytes. Previously it had been shown that homozygous loss of function mutations in TREM2 cause polycystic lipomembranous osteodysplasia with sclerosing leukoencephalopathy (PLOSL, Nasu Hakola disease) and also a pure form of early-onset dementia. The association of TREM2 variants with AD brings innate immune signaling into the light, affirming innate immunity's role as a significant factor in AD pathogenesis.
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