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Neurobiol Aging. 2002 Sep-Oct;23(5):777-85.

APOE and the regulation of microglial nitric oxide production: a link between genetic risk and oxidative stress.

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Division of Neurology, Duke University Medical Center, Box 2900, Bryan Research Building, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


The mechanism linking the APOE4 gene with increased susceptibility for Alzheimer's disease (AD) and poorer outcomes following closed head injury and stroke is unknown. One potential link is activation of the innate immune system in the CNS. Our previously published data demonstrated that apolipoprotein E regulates production of nitric oxide, a critical cytoactive factor released by immune active macrophages. To determine if immune regulation is different in the presence of apolipoprotein E4 compared to apolipoprotein E3, we have measured NO production by peritoneal and CNS macrophages (microglia) cultured from transgenic mice that only express the human apoE4 or apoE3 protein isoform. Significantly more NO was produced in APOE4 mice compared to APOE3 transgenic mice that only express human apoE3 protein. Similarly, monocyte derived macrophages from humans carrying APOE4 gene alleles also produce significantly greater NO than those individuals with APOE3. The mechanism for this isoform-specific difference in NO production is not known and multiple sites in the NO production pathway may be affected. Expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA and protein are not significantly different between the APOE3 and APOE4 mice, suggesting that induction of iNOS is not a primary cause of the increased NO production in APOE4 animals. One alternative regulatory mechanism that demonstrates isoform specificity is arginine transport, which is greater in microglia from APOE4 transgenic mice compared to microglia from APOE3 mice. Increased transport is consistent with an increased production of NO and may reflect a direct or indirect effect of the APOE genotype on microglial arginine uptake and microglial activation in general. Overall, greater NO production in APOE4 carriers where characteristically high levels of oxidative/nitrosative stress are found in diseases such as AD provides a mechanism that potentially explains the genetic association between APOE4 and human diseases.

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