Retinal imaging demonstrates reduced capillary density in clinically unimpaired apoe ε4 gene carriers

Fanny M. Elahi, Senyo B. Ashimatey, Daniel J. Bennett, Samantha M. Walters, Renaud La Joie, Xuejuan Jiang, Amy Wolf, Yann Cobigo, Adam M. Staffaroni, Howie J. Rosen, Bruce L. Miller, Gil D. Rabinovici, Joel H. Kramer, Ari J. Green, Amir H. Kashani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Introduction: Apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4, the strongest non-Mendelian genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), has been shown to affect brain capillaries in mice, with potential implications for AD-related neurodegenerative disease. However, human brain capillaries cannot be directly visualized in vivo. We therefore used retinal imaging to test APOE ε4 effects on human central nervous system capillaries. Methods: We collected retinal optical coherence tomography angiography, cognitive testing, and brain imaging in research participants and built statistical models to test genotype–phenotype associations. Results: Our analyses demonstrate lower retinal capillary densities in early disease, in cognitively normal APOE ε4 gene carriers. Furthermore, through regression modeling with a measure of brain perfusion (arterial spin labeling), we provide support for the relevance of these findings to cerebral vasculature. Discussion: These results suggest that APOE ε4 affects capillary health in humans and that retinal capillary measures could serve as surrogates for brain capillaries, providing an opportunity to study microangiopathic contributions to neurodegenerative disorders directly in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12181
JournalAlzheimer's and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Apolipoprotein E ε4
  • Capillary rarefaction
  • Preclinical biomarker
  • Preclinical disease
  • Vascular contributions to Alzheimer’s disease


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