. A specific amyloid-beta protein assembly in the brain impairs memory. Nature. 2006 Mar 16;440(7082):352-7. PubMed.


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  1. This is an impressive and important contribution. It links the appearance of a particular multimeric species of the amyloid-β peptide—Aβ*56—to a specific behavioral perturbation, and induces the same perturbation in naïve rats by reintroducing the Aβ*56 species purified from Tg2576 brains. It begins to address the conundrum that Aβ levels, soluble or insoluble, do not correlate with the onset and severity of behavioral changes in these animals.

    Expectedly, this report stimulates a raft of questions, not with the work itself, but in teasing out more of the details and in stimulating new approaches. It will also energize corroboration of their findings in other Tg mouse models, as well as a search for correlates in Alzheimer disease brain. The findings from those studies will either further validate the animal model or set limits on its interpretation, both of which will be valuable. To begin to understand this complex paper, you must also study the supplementary information provided online.

    Hypothesizing that a particular species of Aβ was responsible for deficits in memory retention that progress in a specific pattern with age in Tg 2576 mice, the authors developed a sequential extraction method to distinguish pools of Aβ peptide in the brains of these mice. They were able to empirically quasi-separate “extracellular-enriched” and “intracellular-enriched” fractions, although it is not clear how detergent-containing extractions can avoid solubilizing membranes. Perhaps a specific detergent/protein ratio limits the effect of the detergent.

    Combined with primary neuronal and astrocyte culture work, this fractionation allowed them to conclude that oligomers of Aβ larger than trimers assemble extracellularly. Interestingly, cultured cells contained only trimers, while the extracellular species were trimers and tetramers, but not hexamers, nonamers, or Aβ*56 (dodecamers), which are observed in the whole aged animals. This could be due to the fact that the cultured cells are embryonic, not mature neurons, and they are not in a tissue environment. What is apparent is that oligomer formation in cells yields a different size spectrum of products from those reported in the literature for synthetic peptides and from those observed in aged (>6 months) animals (this article). This may be due to clearance mechanisms and/or modulating intra- and extracellular processes.

    The importance of these observations is that they direct attention to extracellular events as being important in the maturation of trimers and tetramers into Aβ*56. This has not previously been appreciated. It also suggests that the change occurring at 6 months of age in Tg 2576 mice may be in the cellular environment. This will undoubtedly launch new lines of research focusing on that aspect. An extracellular target is also an easier one to reach with therapeutics.

    In the studies reported here, Aβ*56 is purified by immunoprecipitation. Along with the specificity of that method for Aβ peptides comes the risk of missing cryptic epitopes. As an example, in Lesne et al., hexamers do not seem to IP well, yet they can be readily seen in non-IPed material. Antigen recovery by boiling of the blots before immunodetection affects the relative intensity of the species observed, as noted by the authors.

    The authors are careful not to claim that Aβ*56 is the only species capable of inducing behavioral effects; indeed, they do not report testing the other SEC-separated species they isolate.

    The story, of course, is far from complete with the identification of an Aβ*56 species that reproduces particular behavioral deficits in rats that are seen in the transgenic APP mice. Transgenic mice are at best a partial model of the uniquely human Alzheimer disease. There is minimal neuronal cell death in mice and in most cases (including Tg 2576), only moderate synapse loss is apparent. While more detailed study may reveal subtle changes in synaptic architecture/function, the devastation in the Alzheimer brain is not recapitulated. Thus, mice may represent a model of the earliest stages of a process that becomes Alzheimer disease in humans. That is a particularly important issue, because it is precisely at that stage at which intervention is likely to be most effective and detection of pathology first possible.

  2. Amyloid-β protein dodecamer in the brain impairs memory in the Tg2576 mouse
    The experience from genetic findings in the early 1990s strongly point to Aβ as the culprit in Alzheimer disease. However, we still do not understand how Aβ confers cognitive dysfunction and neuronal atrophy. Recent years have witnessed an increased interest in soluble Aβ oligomers as being the important pathogenic form of Aβ. This article is a significant contribution to the field. Most impressive is perhaps the author’s ability to isolate a soluble Aβ species from the brain and prove that it affects cognition. The research team, headed by Karen Ashe, has for a long time sought the elusive Aβ species responsible for cognitive decline in their transgenic mouse model Tg2576, which harbors the Swedish APP mutation.

    Tg2576 lack neuropathology and are cognitively unimpaired until 6 months of age, when spatial memory declines but then remains stable for another 7-8 months. Animals aged more than 14 months develop neuropathology including neuritic plaques containing amyloid-β peptides and further cognitive deficits. The authors posited the existence of an Aβ oligomeric form, designated Aβ*, responsible for early cognitive decline in Tg2576. Two criteria were used: Aβ* should appear at 6 months of age and remain stable between 6-14 months of age. The best correlation was found between Aβ 12-mers and spatial memory.

    Curiously, non-transgenic mice also show a trend toward impaired spatial memory at 6 months of age (Figure 1a). It would be interesting to investigate whether increase in Aβ* is coincident with cognitive deficits also in other APP mouse models, since cognitive dysfunction is known to be highly dependent upon strain background.

    Most surprisingly, levels of Aβ*56 in brain do not increase upon onset of senile plaque deposition when total Aβ levels increase 100-fold (Kawarabayashi et al. 2001). This would tend to suggest a dichotomous model of Aβ amyloidosis in the brain, where Aβ* formation is unrelated to senile plaque formation. It would be interesting to determine turnover of endogenous Aβ* in the brain, especially since Aβ* confers a transient effect on memory retention. What would happen with levels of Aβ* in Tg2576 following acute or chronic treatment with a potent γ-secretase inhibitor or in a TET-off APP transgenic model?

    Most important would be, of course, to investigate if Aβ* exists in the brain or CSF of Alzheimer disease patients, and if Aβ* levels are linked to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and further cognitive decline in the human disease.


    . Age-dependent changes in brain, CSF, and plasma amyloid (beta) protein in the Tg2576 transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. J Neurosci. 2001 Jan 15;21(2):372-81. PubMed.

  3. Star-struck by Amyloid
    Lesne and colleagues show that Aβ*56 is found in cognitively impaired Tg2576 animals without Aβ plaques, but not in unimpaired animals, and that it correlates to early declines in memory but not later ones. Notably, when isolated and injected into rats, Aβ*56 leads to reversible cognitive deficits. This is an interesting study and will definitely appeal to supporters of the amyloid hypothesis. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, a few salient aspects bear remembrance.

    First, different groups have reported that knockout of PS1 (i.e., no Aβ and probably no Aβ*56, either), while attenuating Aβ pathology in APP mutant transgenic mice, does not cure cognitive deficits (Dewachter et al., 2002; Saura et al., 2005). Therefore, cognitive deficits do not relate to Aβ (in any guise, even *). Second, mitochondrial, apoptotic, and oxidative events all precede frank Aβ deposition and are linked to cognitive decline in APP transgenic mice (Pratico et al., 2001; Reddy et al., 2004). Since oxidative stress leads to increases in Aβ (Yan et al., 1995; Li et al., 2004), we suspect this is the true star. Third, related to these issues, mutations in APP cause increases in oxidative stress (Yamatsuji et al., 1996; Hashimoto et al., 2000).

    In sum, Aβ*56 may be the brightest star, but, as any amateur astronomer can attest, “stars that burn brightest burn fastest and thus have the shortest lifetimes.”


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  4. This exciting paper set outs to define the site and conformation of Aβ in the brain that may be critical for cognitive dysfunction in Tg2576 mice. The co-occurrence of Aβ*56 with behavioral alterations is quite interesting, yet aspects of the study are surprising. Aβ* does not progressively increase, while Alzheimer disease and Tg2576 mice are characterized by progressive synaptic pathology. Aβ* appears at the onset of what seems to be a progressive decline in behavior in Tg2576 mice, were it not for transient improvement at 13 months, which surprisingly also occurs in wild-type mice.

    The data used to support that Aβ* accumulates extracellularly in Tg2576 mice are challenging. As suggested in previous comments (LeVine; Marchesi), it would seem difficult to be certain that one is mainly looking at extracellular peptides after detergent treatment (0.01 percent NP-40; 0.1 percent SDS) and homogenization of the intricate mass of neurons and processes of brain by 10 passages through a 20-gauge needle. The authors did provide some data on other intracellular proteins not leaking out in the process, although one might expect cytoskeleton proteins, such as tau and MAP2, to be more readily retained in cells in the presence of detergent compared to a hydrophobic/lipid-associated peptide such as Aβ. A readily releasable marker such as LDH could have been helpful.

    In the supplement, the authors compare previous work addressing Aβ increases in Tg2576 mice, including work from our lab on intraneuronal Aβ42 increases. Their interpretation appears inconsistent with our immunoelectron microscopy studies demonstrating pathological intraneuronal Aβ42 increases and oligomerization in Tg2576 mouse brains (Takahashi et al., 2002; 2004). Remarkably, a fascinating report relating Pin1 and amyloid by Lu and colleagues (Pastorino et al., 2006) in the following issue of Nature provided further confirmation of intraneuronal Aβ accumulation in MVBs of Tg2576 mice.

    Can the findings of Lesne et al. be reconciled with evidence for intraneuronal Aβ? It is possible that Aβ* is the specific oligomer responsible for the invariable association of intracellular pathology with Aβ oligomers (Takahashi et al., 2004), which could then be released from neurites following destruction of the plasma membrane from within. This is not inconsistent with a subsequent important role for extracellular Aβ* as well. A potentially similar scenario of intracellular amyloid formation is described in a recent article on diabetes, another common amyloid associated age-related disease (Paulsson et al., 2006).


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    . The prolyl isomerase Pin1 regulates amyloid precursor protein processing and amyloid-beta production. Nature. 2006 Mar 23;440(7083):528-34. PubMed.

    . Intracellular amyloid-like deposits contain unprocessed pro-islet amyloid polypeptide (proIAPP) in beta cells of transgenic mice overexpressing the gene for human IAPP and transplanted human islets. Diabetologia. 2006 Jun;49(6):1237-46. PubMed.