Rare genetic variant “the Christchurch mutation” offers hope for Alzheimer’s treatment

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A rare genetic variant known as the “Christchurch mutation” is emerging as a potential protector against the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease, especially linked to the high-risk apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) gene.

Researchers at Gladstone Institutes have conducted groundbreaking studies demonstrating how this mutation can block harmful consequences associated with APOE4, opening new avenues for Alzheimer’s research and potential treatments.

Understanding APOE and the Christchurch Mutation

The APOE gene plays a crucial role in Alzheimer’s disease risk, with three primary variants: E2 (low risk), E3 (intermediate risk), and E4 (high risk).

The Christchurch mutation, discovered in a woman who defied familial Alzheimer’s history despite carrying another aggressive Alzheimer’s-causing gene, has raised intriguing possibilities.

\Researchers sought to determine whether this mutation could mitigate the detrimental effects of APOE4, a well-established Alzheimer’s risk factor.

The Impact of the Christchurch Mutation

In extensive experiments involving mice models and human neurons, scientists engineered the Christchurch mutation into APOE4 genes. The results were remarkable.

Mice with human APOE4 and tau genes, devoid of the Christchurch mutation, exhibited Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms.

Tau protein accumulated in neurons, neuroinflammation levels rose, and disease-associated microglia increased. However, introducing the Christchurch mutation significantly prevented or reduced these abnormalities.

Molecular Mechanisms at Play

By studying human neurons with APOE4 and the Christchurch mutation in culture, researchers uncovered vital molecular mechanisms.

They focused on the transfer of tau protein into neurons, a process influenced by cell surface molecules called heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs). APOE, HSPGs, and the Christchurch mutation were intricately linked in this process.

A Promising Path Forward

The Christchurch mutation demonstrated a strong ability to hinder the interaction between APOE4 and HSPGs, resulting in reduced neuronal tau uptake.

These findings suggest that blocking this interaction in individuals with the APOE4 gene may hold the key to treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Potential approaches include small molecule drugs, monoclonal antibodies, or gene therapy, although further research and development are needed before clinical applications.


The discovery of the Christchurch mutation’s protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease, particularly associated with APOE4, marks a significant breakthrough.

This finding paves the way for innovative treatments and interventions that could change the course of Alzheimer’s research and offer hope to those at risk of this devastating disease.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about New Alzheimer’s treatment: anti-inflammatory drug may prevent memory loss and findings of The diabetes drug surprise: a possible shield against Alzheimer’s?

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, please see recent studies about Is there a link between fruit sugar in your food and Alzheimer’s disease? and results showing that Can B vitamins help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

The research findings can be found in Nature Neuroscience.

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