Based on molecular genetic data, researchers in Seattle proposed last year that Alois Alzheimer’s first patient likely carried the same familial AD mutation common to Volga Germans (ARF related news story on Yu et al., 2010). The evidence was circumstantial, and a study in this month’s Archives of Neurology definitively disproves the hypothesis. Sequencing DNA from century-old brain tissue of Alzheimer’s quintessential case, researchers led by Ulrich Mueller of the Institute for Human Genetics in Giessen, Germany, report that Auguste Deter did not, in fact, carry the presenilin-2 N141I mutation.
Senior author Manuel Graeber rediscovered Auguste D.’s original slides in the basement of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Munich while finishing his clinical training and habilitation thesis there in the 1990s (Graeber, 1999). Graeber, now at the University of Sydney in Australia, did not contribute to the Seattle study, and told ARF he has “always argued against carrying out single-gene tests on this precious material.” However, Mueller “convinced me on this one occasion.” Mueller and Graeber worked together on the original analysis (Graeber et al., 1997), Graeber wrote.
Thomas Bird and Chang-En Yu of the University of Washington, who led the Seattle analysis, wrote in response to Mueller’s findings: “We thank Dr. Mueller and colleagues for their careful molecular analysis of this valuable tissue. The etiology and biological pathogenesis initiating the early onset of neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in Auguste D. remains a mystery today, just as it was for Alzheimer more than 100 years ago.”
Having ruled out the PS2 N141I mutation, Graeber’s team plans to eventually sequence other portions of Auguste D.’s DNA to find which mutations or known AD risk variants she might have had. “But I think one should wait until technology is so mature that a complete genome scan can be done on a minute portion of this archival material,” Graeber noted. “The slides are valuable not only from a historical point of view, but their quality is such that they can serve as an inspiration for anyone with an interest in brain research (see examples here, see photos in Alois Alzheimer biographical story).”—Esther Landhuis