What is ApoE 4?

Find out about one of the genetic variants of Alzheimer’s disease

Male Alzheimer's patient on bed, reminders on dresser drawers. Credit: John Livzey / Getty Images

ApoE 4 is one of several variants of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene. According to The Alzheimer's Action Plan, those who have the ApoE 4 gene are three to eight times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who do not carry ApoE 4. The level of risk partially depends on whether the person inherits one or two copies of the gene, which plays a role in how cholesterol is metabolized.

Is there a test for ApoE?

Yes, there is a blood test the can identify whether or not you carry ApoE genes.

However, just because you have the gene doesn’t mean that you will or will not develop Alzheimer’s disease.  Genetic testing will not predict who diseases will occur in because there are so many other factors — environment and lifestyle are just two — that influence the progression and development of health conditions.

Sure, there’s a test; but unless you’re taking part in a clinical trial and your doctor is trying to diagnose early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease, it isn’t recommended. (Here are the 12 benefits of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease early.) Testing is used in a research setting so study participants who may have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s can be indentify. In this case, scientists can look for how the brain changes and how treatments work. Currently, there isn’t enough information to warrant ApoE testing for all, or necessarily those with a family history of the disease.

Get Involved in Alzheimer’s Research

There are numerous projects that are looking at how genetics affect disease progression, especially as it pertains to Alzheimer’s disease. For these studies to be successful and garner the information needed to fight this disease, volunteers are critical.

To learn more about Alzheimer's genetics studies, contact National Cell Repository for Alzheimer’s Disease (NCRAD) toll-free at 1-800-526-2839 or visit http://ncrad.iu.edu.

To learn more about volunteering for Alzheimer's clinical trials and studies, visit www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/volunteer.

What to do if you have the gene

Science is just starting to uncover how the ApoE 4 gene influences the development of Alzheimer’s disease. That means it is also unclear what might be done to stop this progression. But there are some insights. For instance, in a February 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that moderate seafood consumption was correlated with lesser Alzheimer disease neuropathology. There is also some evidence that links too much copper and zinc in the diet to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Also, exercise. To find out how physical activity affects your brain, here consider reading:

6 ways physical activity can benefit Alzheimer’s disease

The one exercise that best prevents and slows Alzheimer's

10 ways to decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease


Morris MC, Brockman J,Schneider JA, Wang Y,Bennett DA,Tangney CC,van de Rest O. Association of Seafood Consumption, Brain Mercury Level, APOE ε4 Status With Brain Neuropathology in Older Adults. JAMA. 2016 Feb 2;315(5):489-97. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.19451.

Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Aging. Accessed March 2, 2016.

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