Apolipoprotein ε4 is associated with better cognitive control allocation in healthy young adults.


Cognitive Neurophysiology, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine of the TU Dresden, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]


Many gene variants may impair our health and cognitive abilities at old age, but some of them paradoxically improve the same or similar functions at much younger age (antagonistic pleiotropy hypothesis). Such a diametric pattern may also hold true for the ancestral Apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 allele, which increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline in old age, but may benefit (pre)frontal (executive) functions in young carriers. We therefore investigated potential cognitive benefits of the risk allele on cognitive control capacities and top-down control allocation ("metacontrol") in n = 190 healthy young adults. On a behavioral level, we found young APOE ε4 carriers to better adapt to different degrees of cognitive control requirements, with superior performance in case of high control demands. On a neurophysiological level, these group differences were reflected by modulations of the N450 component, which were rooted in activation differences of the superior frontal gyrus (SFG, BA8). Taken together, our results suggest that young ε4 carriers are more efficient than non-carriers at allocating cognitive control resources based on the actual task requirements (i.e. metacontrol), as they seem to experience less conflict/exert less effort and recruit fewer additional prefrontal areas when task set complexity increases. We further found that ε2 carriers processed implicit spatial stimulus features to a stronger degree than ε3 and ε4 carriers, but failed to benefit from this, as the additional information likely increased response selection conflicts. This finding should however be treated with ample caution as the group of ε2 carriers was comparatively small.


Antagonistic pleiotropy,Apolipoprotein E,Cognitive control,EEG,N450,Superior frontal gyrus,