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Differential effects of the APOE e4 allele on different domains of cognitive ability across the life-course

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Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2015


The association between APOE genotype and cognitive function suggests a positive role for the e2 allele and a negative role for the e4 allele. Both alleles have relatively low frequencies in the general population; hence, meta-analyses have been based on many small, heterogeneous studies. Here, we report the APOE-cognition associations in the largest single analysis to date. APOE status and cognitive ability were measured in 18 337 participants from the Generation Scotland study between 2006 and 2011. The age range was 18–94 years with a mean of 47 (SD 15). Four cognitive domains were assessed: verbal declarative memory (paragraph recall), processing speed (digit symbol substitution), verbal fluency (phonemic verbal fluency), and vocabulary (Mill Hill synonyms). Linear regression was used to assess the associations between APOE genetic status and cognition. Possession of the e4 allele was associated with lower scores on the measures of memory and processing speed in subjects aged >60. Across all age ranges, the e4 allele was linked to better verbal fluency scores. In younger subjects (≤60 years) the e4 allele was linked to higher vocabulary scores. There were no associations between the e2 allele and cognitive ability. As seen in previous meta-analyses, the APOE e4 allele is linked to poorer cognitive performance in the domains of memory and processing speed. By contrast, positive associations were seen between the e4 allele and measures of verbal fluency and vocabulary. All associations were relatively small and, in many cases, nominally significant despite the very large sample size.

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