Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Alzheimer's Research & Therapy and BioMed Central.

Open Badges Debate

Have we learnt all we need to know from genetic studies - is genetics over in Alzheimer's disease?

Harald Hampel12* and Simone Lista3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, University of Frankfurt, Heinrich-Hoffmann-Str. 10, 60528 - Frankfurt am Main, Germany

2 Department of Neurology, University of Belgrade, Dr Subotića Str. 8, 11000 - Belgrade, Serbia

3 DZNE, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases Rostock/Greifswald, Gehlsheimer Str. 20, 18147 - Rostock, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

Alzheimer's Research & Therapy 2013, 5:11  doi:10.1186/alzrt165

Published: 18 March 2013



Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathophysiology is mostly (>95%) not inherited in a Mendelian fashion. Such sporadic AD (sAD) forms do not exhibit familial aggregation and are characterized by complex genetic inheritance. Growing evidence indicates that multiple genes contribute to sAD-characteristic endophenotypes, molecular mechanisms, signaling pathways and biomarker signatures either individually or through complex gene-gene interactions, lifestyle and the environment.


Under the hypothesis that low-prevalence variants showing moderate-to-high effect size may be associated with risk for sAD, two independent research groups have demonstrated that a rare variant (rs75932628, encoding a substitution of arginine by histidine at residue 47 (R47H), in the TREM2 gene, which encodes the triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2) is significantly associated with an increased susceptibility to sAD. Another study has provided intriguing evidence that a low-frequency variant (rs63750847) in the APP gene is associated with a reduced risk of developing AD and a lower likelihood of age-related cognitive decline in elderly subjects without AD.


Recent years have witnessed tremendous development in genetics technology that has allowed full individualized genome-wide or genomic screening embracing all of the risk and protective variants for sAD, both across populations and within individuals. Hopefully, the integration of neurogenetics with systems biology and high-throughput genotyping will further pave the way to decipher all of the related causes, mechanisms, and biomarkers across the spectrum of distinct AD forms. After an almost lost apprentice decade in AD therapy development, the epoch of individualized asymptomatic screening and progress in primary and secondary prevention of sAD is probably at its dawn. Even though we are more at the beginning than at the end of sAD genetics, there is some reason for optimism given the recent identification of novel risk or protective variants (such as rare TREM2 and APP mutations) showing strong statistical associations with sAD.