JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Genes and mechanisms involved in beta-amyloid generation and Alzheimer's disease

H Steiner, A Capell, U Leimer, C Haass
European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 1999, 249 (6): 266-70
10653281
Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the invariable accumulation of senile plaques that are predominantly composed of amyloid beta-peptide (Abeta). Abeta is generated by proteolytic processing of the beta-amyloid precursor protein (betaAPP) involving the combined action of beta- and gamma-secretase. Cleavage within the Abeta domain by alpha-secretase prevents Abeta generation. In some very rare cases of familial AD (FAD), mutations have been identified within the betaAPP gene. These mutations are located close to or at the cleavage sites of the secretases and pathologically effect betaAPP processing by increasing Abeta production, specifically its highly amyloidogenic 42 amino acid variant (Abeta42). Most of the mutations associated with FAD have been identified in the two presenilin (PS) genes, particularly the PS1 gene. Like the mutations identified within the betaAPP gene, mutations in PS1 and PS2 cause the increased generation of Abeta42. PS1 has been shown to be functionally involved in Notch signaling, a key process in cellular differentation, and in betaAPP processing. A gene knock out of PS1 in mice leads to an embryonic lethal phenotype similar to that of mice lacking Notch. In addition, absence of PS1 results in reduced gamma-secretase cleavage and leads to an accumulation of betaAPP C-terminal fragments and decreased amounts of Abeta. Recent work may suggest that PS1 could be the gamma-secretase itself, exhibiting the properties of a novel aspartyl protease. Mutagenesis of either of two highly conserved intramembraneous aspartate residues of PS1 leads to reduced Abeta production as observed in the PS1 knockout. A corresponding mutation in PS2 interfered with betaAPP processing and Notch signaling suggesting a functional redundancy of both presenilins. In this issue, some of the recent work on the molecular mechanisms involved in Alzheimer's disease (AD) as well as novel diagnostic approaches and risk factors for AD will be discussed. In the first article, we like to give an overview on mechanisms involved in the proteolytic generation of Amyloid beta-peptide (Abeta), the major pathological player of this devastating disease. In the second part of this article recent results will be described, which demonstrate an unexpected biological and pathological function of an AD associated gene.

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