BackgroundThe growing prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is becoming a global health challenge without effective treatments. Defective mitochondrial function and mitophagy have recently been suggested as etiological factors in AD, in association with abnormalities in components of the autophagic machinery like lysosomes and phagosomes. Several large transcriptomic studies have been performed on different brain regions from AD and healthy patients, and their data represent a vast source of important information that can be utilized to understand this condition. However, large integration analyses of these publicly available data, such as AD RNA-Seq data, are still missing. In addition, large-scale focused analysis on mitophagy, which seems to be relevant for the aetiology of the disease, has not yet been performed. MethodsIn this study, publicly available raw RNA-Seq data generated from healthy control and sporadic AD post-mortem human samples of the brain frontal lobe were collected and integrated. Sex-specific differential expression analysis was performed on the combined data set after batch effect correction. From the resulting set of differentially expressed genes, candidate mitophagy-related genes were identified based on their known functional roles in mitophagy, the lysosome, or the phagosome, followed by Protein-Protein Interaction (PPI) and microRNA-mRNA network analysis. The expression changes of candidate genes were further validated in human skin fibroblast and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)-derived cortical neurons from AD patients and matching healthy controls. ResultsFrom a large dataset (AD: 589; control: 246) based on three different datasets (i.e., ROSMAP, MSBB, & GSE110731), we identified 299 candidate mitophagy-related differentially expressed genes (DEG) in sporadic AD patients (male: 195, female: 188). Among these, the AAA ATPase VCP, the GTPase ARF1, the autophagic vesicle forming protein GABARAPL1 and the cytoskeleton protein actin beta ACTB were selected based on network degrees and existing literature. Changes in their expression were further validated in AD-relevant human in vitro models, which confirmed their down-regulation in AD conditions. ConclusionThrough the joint analysis of multiple publicly available data sets, we identify four differentially expressed key mitophagy-related genes potentially relevant for the pathogenesis of sporadic AD. Changes in expression of these four genes were validated using two AD-relevant human in vitro models, primary human fibroblasts and iPSC-derived neurons. Our results provide foundation for further investigation of these genes as potential biomarkers or disease-modifying pharmacological targets.
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