Background: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders characterized by progressive decline in cognitive function. Targeted genetic analyses, genome-wide association studies, and imaging genetic analyses have been performed to detect AD risk and protective genes and have successfully identified dozens of AD susceptibility loci. Recently, brain imaging transcriptomics analyses have also been conducted to investigate the relationship between neuroimaging traits and gene expression measures to identify interesting gene-traits associations. These imaging transcriptomic studies typically do not involve the disease outcome in the analysis, and thus the identified brain or transcriptomic markers may not be related or specific to the disease outcome.
Results: We propose an innovative two-stage approach to identify genes whose expression profiles are related to diagnosis phenotype via brain transcriptome mapping. Specifically, we first map the effects of a diagnosis phenotype onto imaging traits across the brain using a linear regression model. Then, the gene-diagnosis association is assessed by spatially correlating the brain transcriptome map with the diagnostic effect map on the brain-wide imaging traits. To demonstrate the promise of our approach, we apply it to the integrative analysis of the brain transcriptome data from the Allen Human Brain Atlas (AHBA) and the amyloid imaging data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) cohort. Our method identifies 12 genes whose brain-wide transcriptome patterns are highly correlated with six different diagnostic effect maps on the amyloid imaging traits. These 12 genes include four confirmatory findings (i.e., AD genes reported in DisGeNET) and eight novel genes that have not be associated with AD in DisGeNET.
Conclusion: We have proposed a novel disease-related brain transcriptomic mapping method to identify genes whose expression profiles spatially correlated with regional diagnostic effects on a studied brain trait. Our empirical study on the AHBA and ADNI data shows the promise of the approach, and the resulting AD gene discoveries provide valuable information for better understanding biological pathways from transcriptomic signatures to intermediate brain traits and to phenotypic disease outcomes.
Jae Young Baik, Mansu Kim, Jingxuan Bao, Qi Long, Li Shen and for the ADNI (2022). "Identifying Alzheimer’s genes via brain transcriptome mapping." BMC Med Genomics.