A mutation in the BRI2/ITM2b gene causes familial Danish dementia (FDD). BRI2 is an inhibitor of amyloid-β precursor protein (APP) processing, which is genetically linked to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis. The FDD mutation leads to a loss of BRI2 protein and to increased APP processing. APP haplodeficiency and inhibition of APP cleavage by β-secretase rescue synaptic/memory deficits of a genetically congruous mouse model of FDD (FDDKI). β-cleavage of APP yields the β-carboxyl-terminal (β-CTF) and the amino-terminal-soluble APPβ (sAPPβ) fragments. γ-secretase processing of β-CTF generates Aβ, which is considered the main cause of AD. However, inhibiting Aβ production did not rescue the deficits of FDDKI mice, suggesting that sAPPβ/β-CTF, and not Aβ, are the toxic species causing memory loss.
Here, we have further analyzed the effect of γ-secretase inhibition. We show that treatment with a γ-secretase inhibitor (GSI) results in a worsening of the memory deficits of FDDKI mice. This deleterious effect on memory correlates with increased levels of the β/α-CTFs APP fragments in synaptic fractions isolated from hippocampi of FDDKI mice, which is consistent with inhibition of γ-secretase activity.
This harmful effect of the GSI is in sharp contrast with a pathogenic role for Aβ, and suggests that the worsening of memory deficits may be due to accumulation of synaptic-toxic β/α-CTFs caused by GSI treatment. However, γ-secretase cleaves more than 40 proteins; thus, the noxious effect of GSI on memory may be dependent on inhibition of cleavage of one or more of these other γ-secretase substrates. These two possibilities do not need to be mutually exclusive. Our results are consistent with the outcome of a clinical trial with the GSI Semagacestat, which caused a worsening of cognition, and advise against targeting γ-secretase in the therapy of AD. Overall, the data also indicate that FDDKI is a valuable mouse model to study AD pathogenesis and predict the clinical outcome of therapeutic agents for AD.