Differential Effects of APOE Genotype on MicroRNA Cargo of Cerebrospinal Fluid Extracellular Vesicles in Females With Alzheimer’s Disease Compared to Males

Ursula S. Sandau, Trevor J. McFarland, Sierra J. Smith, Douglas R. Galasko, Joseph F. Quinn, Julie A. Saugstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Multiple biological factors, including age, sex, and genetics, influence Alzheimer’s disease (AD) risk. Of the 6.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2021, 3.8 million are women and 2.4 million are men. The strongest genetic risk factor for sporadic AD is apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4). Female APOE-e4 carriers develop AD more frequently than age-matched males and have more brain atrophy and memory loss. Consequently, biomarkers that are sensitive to biological risk factors may improve AD diagnostics and may provide insight into underlying mechanistic changes that could drive disease progression. Here, we have assessed the effects of sex and APOE-e4 on the miRNA cargo of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) extracellular vesicles (EVs) in AD. We used ultrafiltration (UF) combined with size exclusion chromatography (SEC) to enrich CSF EVs (e.g., Flotillin+). CSF EVs were isolated from female and male AD or controls (CTLs) that were either APOE-e3,4 or -e3,3 positive (n = 7/group, 56 total). MiRNA expression levels were quantified using a custom TaqMan™ array that assayed 190 miRNAs previously found in CSF, including 25 miRNAs that we previously validated as candidate AD biomarkers. We identified changes in the EV miRNA cargo that were affected by both AD and sex. In total, four miRNAs (miR-16-5p, -331-3p, -409-3p, and -454-3p) were significantly increased in AD vs. CTL, independent of sex and APOE-e4 status. Pathway analysis of the predicted gene targets of these four miRNAs with identified pathways was highly relevant to neurodegeneration (e.g., senescence and autophagy). There were also three miRNAs (miR-146b-5p, -150-5p, and -342-3p) that were significantly increased in females vs. males, independent of disease state and APOE-e4 status. We then performed a statistical analysis to assess the effect of APOE genotype in AD within each sex and found that APOE-e4 status affects different subsets of CSF EV miRNAs in females vs. males. Together, this study demonstrates the complexity of the biological factors associated with AD risk and the impact on EV miRNAs, which may contribute to AD pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number864022
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - Apr 27 2022


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • apolipoprotein E allele (APOE)
  • cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
  • extracellular vesicle (EV)
  • microRNA
  • sex difference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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