Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a major cause of dementia. Growing evidence suggests that dysregulation of autophagy, a cellular mechanism essential for self-digestion of damaged proteins and organelles, is involved in neurological degenerative diseases including AD. Previously, we reported that autophagosomes are increased in the brains of AD mouse model. However, the plasma levels of autophagic markers have not yet been investigated in patients with AD. In this study, we investigated the expression of autophagy-related genes 5 and 12 (ATG5 and ATG12, respectively) in cells in vitro upon amyloid-beta (Aβ) treatment and in the plasma of AD patients. ATG5-ATG12 complex levels were increased in primary rat cortical neurons and human umbilical vein endothelial cells after Aβ treatment. Furthermore, we compared plasma from 69 patients with dementia, 82 patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and 127 cognitively normal control participants. Plasma levels of ATG5 were significantly elevated in patients with dementia (149.3 ± 7.5 ng/mL) or MCI (152.9 ± 6.9 ng/mL) compared with the control subjects (129.0 ± 4.1 ng/mL) (p = 0.034, p = 0.016, respectively). Our results indicate that alterations in the plasma ATG5 levels might be a potential biomarker in patients at risk for AD.
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