Protective genes and pathways in Alzheimer's disease: moving towards precision interventions.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that is characterized by neurodegeneration, cognitive impairment, and an eventual inability to perform daily tasks. The etiology of Alzheimer's is complex, with numerous environmental and genetic factors contributing to the disease. Late-onset AD is highly heritable (60 to 80%), and over 40 risk loci for AD have been identified via large genome-wide association studies, most of which are common variants with small effect sizes. Although these discoveries have provided novel insight on biological contributors to AD, disease-modifying treatments remain elusive. Recently, the concepts of resistance to pathology and resilience against the downstream consequences of pathology have been of particular interest in the Alzheimer's field as studies continue to identify individuals who evade the pathology of the disease even into late life and individuals who have all of the neuropathological features of AD but evade downstream neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment. It has been hypothesized that a shift in focus from Alzheimer's risk to resilience presents an opportunity to uncover novel biological mechanisms of AD and to identify promising therapeutic targets for the disease. This review will highlight a selection of genes and variants that have been reported to confer protection from AD within the literature and will also discuss evidence for the biological underpinnings behind their protective effect with a focus on genes involved in lipid metabolism, cellular trafficking, endosomal and lysosomal function, synaptic function, and inflammation. Finally, we offer some recommendations in areas where the field can rapidly advance towards precision interventions that leverage the ideas of protection and resilience for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.