With the exception of ApoE4, genome-wide association studies have failed to identify strong genetic risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, despite strong evidence of heritability, suggesting that many low penetrance genes may be involved. Additionally, the nature of the identified genetic risk factors and their relation to disease pathology is also largely obscure. Previous studies have found that a cancer-associated variant of the cell cycle inhibitor gene p21cip1 is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of this study was to confirm this association and to elucidate the effects of the variant on protein function and Alzheimer-type pathology. We examined the association of the p21cip1 variant with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease with dementia. The genotyping studies were performed on 719 participants of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, 225 participants of a Parkinson’s disease DNA bank, and 477 participants of the Human Random Control collection available from the European Collection of Cell Cultures. The post mortem studies were carried out on 190 participants. In the in-vitro study, human embryonic kidney cells were transfected with either the common or rare p21cip1 variant; and cytometry was used to assess cell cycle kinetics, p21cip1 protein expression and sub-cellular localisation. The variant was associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease with dementia, relative to age matched controls. Furthermore, the variant was associated with an earlier age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and a more severe phenotype, with a primary influence on the accumulation of tangle pathology. In the in-vitro study, we found that the SNPs reduced the cell cycle inhibitory and anti-apoptotic activity of p21cip1. The results suggest that the cancer-associated variant of p21cip1 may contribute to the loss of cell cycle control in neurons that may lead to Alzheimer-type neurodegeneration.
Padmanabhan, J., Yates, S. C., Zafar, A., Rabai, E. M., Foxall, J. B., Nagy, S., Morrison, K. E., Clarke, C., Esiri, M. M., Christie, S., Smith, A. D., & Nagy, Z. (2015). The effects of two polymorphisms on p21cip1 function and their association with Alzheimer’s disease in a population of European descent. PLoS ONE, 10(1), 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114050