Open Access Research article

Accumulation of neutral lipids in peripheral blood mononuclear cells as a distinctive trait of Alzheimer patients and asymptomatic subjects at risk of disease

Alessandra Pani1, Antonella Mandas2, Giacomo Diaz1, Claudia Abete1, Pier Luigi Cocco1, Fabrizio Angius1, Annalisa Brundu2, Nico Muçaka2, Maria Elena Pais2, Antonio Saba2, Luigi Barberini3, Cristina Zaru14, Manuela Palmas14, Paolo F Putzu4, Alessandra Mocali5, Francesco Paoletti5, Paolo La Colla1 and Sandra Dessì2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Sciences and Technologies, University of Cagliari, Italy

2 Department of Internal Medical Science, University of Cagliari, Italy

3 Department of Cardiovascular and Neurological Science, University of Cagliari, Italy

4 Alzheimer Center, ASL 8, Cagliari, Italy

5 Department of Experimental Pathology and Oncology, University of Florence, Italy

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BMC Medicine 2009, 7:66  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-7-66

Published: 2 November 2009



Alzheimer's disease is the most common progressive neurodegenerative disease. In recent years, numerous progresses in the discovery of novel Alzheimer's disease molecular biomarkers in brain as well as in biological fluids have been made. Among them, those involving lipid metabolism are emerging as potential candidates. In particular, an accumulation of neutral lipids was recently found by us in skin fibroblasts from Alzheimer's disease patients. Therefore, with the aim to assess whether peripheral alterations in cholesterol homeostasis might be relevant in Alzheimer's disease development and progression, in the present study we analyzed lipid metabolism in plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells from Alzheimer's disease patients and from their first-degree relatives.


Blood samples were obtained from 93 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease and from 91 of their first-degree relatives. As controls we utilized 57, cognitively normal, over-65 year-old volunteers and 113 blood donors aged 21-66 years, respectively. Data are reported as mean ± standard error. Statistical calculations were performed using the statistical analysis software Origin 8.0 version. Data analysis was done using the Student t-test and the Pearson test.


Data reported here show high neutral lipid levels and increased ACAT-1 protein in about 85% of peripheral blood mononuclear cells freshly isolated (ex vivo) from patients with probable sporadic Alzheimer's disease compared to about 7% of cognitively normal age-matched controls. A significant reduction in high density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels in plasma from Alzheimer's disease blood samples was also observed. Additionally, correlation analyses reveal a negative correlation between high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and cognitive capacity, as determined by Mini Mental State Examination, as well as between high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and neutral lipid accumulation. We observed great variability in the neutral lipid-peripheral blood mononuclear cells data and in plasma lipid analysis of the subjects enrolled as Alzheimer's disease-first-degree relatives. However, about 30% of them tend to display a peripheral metabolic cholesterol pattern similar to that exhibited by Alzheimer's disease patients.


We suggest that neutral lipid-peripheral blood mononuclear cells and plasma high density lipoprotein-cholesterol determinations might be of interest to outline a distinctive metabolic profile applying to both Alzheimer's disease patients and asymptomatic subjects at higher risk of disease.