Regional brain iron associated with deterioration in Alzheimer's disease: A large cohort study and theoretical significance
Scott Ayton, Stuart Portbury, Pawel Kalinowski, Puja Agarwal, Ibrahima Diouf, Julie A. Schneider, Martha Clare Morris, Ashley I. Bush
First published: 25 January 2021 https://doi.org/10.1002/alz.12282Citations
Martha Clare Morris and Ashley I. Bush authors contributed equally to this work.
This paper is a proposal for an update of the iron hypothesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), based on large-scale emerging evidence.
Iron featured historically early in AD research efforts for its involvement in the amyloid and tau proteinopathies, APP processing, genetics, and one clinical trial, yet iron neurochemistry remains peripheral in mainstream AD research. Much of the effort investigating iron in AD has focused on the potential for iron to provoke the onset of disease, by promoting proteinopathy though increased protein expression, phosphorylation, and aggregation.
We provide new evidence from a large post mortem cohort that brain iron levels within the normal range were associated with accelerated ante mortem disease progression in cases with underlying proteinopathic neuropathology. These results corroborate recent findings that argue for an additional downstream role for iron as an effector of neurodegeneration, acting independently of tau or amyloid pathologies. We hypothesize that the level of tissue iron is a trait that dictates the probability of neurodegeneration in AD by ferroptosis, a regulated cell death pathway that is initiated by signals such as glutathione depletion and lipid peroxidation.
Major challenges for the hypothesis
While clinical biomarkers of ferroptosis are still in discovery, the demonstration of additional ferroptotic correlates (genetic or biomarker derived) of disease progression is required to test this hypothesis. The genes implicated in familial AD are not known to influence ferroptosis, although recent reports on APP mutations and apolipoprotein E allele (APOE) have shown impact on cellular iron retention. Familial AD mutations will need to be tested for their impact on ferroptotic vulnerability. Ultimately, this hypothesis will be substantiated, or otherwise, by a clinical trial of an anti-ferroptotic/iron compound in AD patients.
Linkage to other major theories
Iron has historically been linked to the amyloid and tau proteinopathies of AD. Tau, APP, and apoE have been implicated in physiological iron homeostasis in the brain. Iron is biochemically the origin of most chemical radicals generated in biochemistry and thus closely associated with the oxidative stress theory of AD. Iron accumulation is also a well-established consequence of aging and inflammation, which are major theories of disease pathogenesis.
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