Presenilin is the catalytic component of the γ-secretase complex, a membrane-embedded aspartyl protease that plays a central role in biology and in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. Upon assembly with its three protein cofactors (nicastrin, Aph-1 and Pen-2), presenilin undergoes autoproteolysis into two subunits, each of which contributes one of the catalytic aspartates to the active site. A family of presenilin homologs, including signal peptide peptidase, possess proteolytic activity without the need for other protein factors, and these simpler intramembane aspartyl proteases have given insight into the action of presenilin within the γ-secretase complex. Cellular and molecular studies support a nine-transmembrane topology for presenilins and their homologs, and small-molecule inhibitors and cysteine scanning with crosslinking have suggested certain presenilin residues and regions that contribute to substrate recognition and handling. Identification of partial complexes has also offered clues to protein–protein interactions within the γ-secretase complex. Biophysical methods have allowed 3D views of the γ-secretase complex and presenilins. Most recently, the crystal structure of amicrobial presenilin homolog has confirmed a nine-transmembrane topology and intramembranous location and proximity of the two conserved and essential aspartates. The crystal structure also provides a platform for the formulation of specific hypotheses regarding substrate interaction and catalysis as well as the pathogenic mechanism of Alzheimer-causing presenilin mutations.
Protease; Membrane; Alzheimer's disease; Signal peptide peptidase
Tau pathologically aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease, and evidence suggests that reducing tau expression may be safe and beneficial for the prevention or treatment of this disease. We sought to examine the role of the 3’-untranslated region (3’-UTR) of human tau mRNA in regulating tau expression. Tau expresses two 3’-UTR isoforms, long and short, as a result of alternative polyadenylation. Using luciferase reporter constructs, we found that expression from these isoforms is differentially controlled in human neuroblastoma cell lines M17D and SH-SY5Y. Several microRNAs were computationally identified as candidates that might bind the long, but not short, tau 3’-UTR isoform. A hit from a screen of candidates, miR-34a, was subsequently shown to repress the expression of endogenous tau protein in M17D cells. Conversely, inhibition of endogenously expressed miR-34 family members leads to increased endogenous tau expression. Additionally, through an unbiased screen of fragments of the human tau 3’-UTR using a luciferase reporter assay, we identified several other regions in the long tau 3’-UTR isoform that contain regulatory cis-elements. Improved understanding of the regulation of tau expression by its 3’-UTR may ultimately lead to the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.
3’-Untranslated region; Alzheimer’s disease; Gene regulation; MAPT; Neurodegenerative disease
Brain deposition of the amyloid beta-protein (Aβ) and tau are characteristic features in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Mutations in the Aβ precursor protein (APP) and a protease involved in Aβ production from APP strongly argue for a pathogenic role of Aβ in AD, while mutations in tau are associated with related disorders collectively called frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Despite intense effort, therapeutic strategies that target Aβ or tau have not yet yielded medications, suggesting that alternative approaches should be pursued. In recent years, our laboratory has studied the role of mRNA in AD and FTLD, specifically those encoding tau and the Aβ-producing protease BACE1. As many FTLD-causing tau mutations destabilize a hairpin structure that regulates RNA splicing, we have targeted this structure with small molecules, antisense oligonucleotides, and small molecule-antisense conjugates. We have also discovered that microRNA interaction with the 3′-untranslated region of tau regulates tau expression. Regarding BACE1, we found that alternative splicing leads to inactive splice isoforms and antisense oligonucleotides shift splicing toward these inactive isoforms to decrease Aβ production. In addition, a G-quadruplex structure in the BACE1 mRNA plays a role in splice regulation. The prospects for targeting tau and BACE1 mRNAs as therapeutic strategies will be discussed.
Presenilin mutations are linked to the early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) and lead to a range of neuronal changes, indicating that presenilins interact with multiple cellular pathways to regulate neuronal functions. In this report, we demonstrate the effects of FAD-linked presenilin 1 mutation (PS1M146L) on the expression and distribution of filamin, an actin cross-linking protein that interacts with PS1 both physically and genetically. By using immunohistochemical method, we evaluated hippocampal dentate gyrus for alterations of proteins involved in synaptic plasticity. Among many proteins expressed in the hippocampus, calretinin, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD67), parvalbumin, and filamin displayed distinct changes in their expression and/or distribution patterns. Striking anti-filamin immunoreactivity was associated with the polymorphic cells of hilar region only in transgenic mice expressing PS1M146L. In over 20% of the PS1M146L mice, the hippocampus of the left hemisphere displayed more pronounced upregulation of filamin than that of the right hemisphere. Anti-filamin labeled the hilar neurons only after the PS1M146L mice reached after four months of age. Double labeling immunohistochemical analyses showed that anti-filamin labeled neurons partially overlapped with cholecystokinin (CCK), somatostatin, GAD67, parvalbumin, and calretinin immunoreactive neurons. In cultured HEK293 cells, PS1 overexpression resulted in filamin redistribution from near cell peripheries to cytoplasm. Treatment of CHO cells stably expressing PS1 with WPE-III-31C or DAPT, selective γ-secretase inhibitors, did not suppress the effects of PS1 overexpression on filamin. These studies support a γ-secretase-independent role of PS1 in modulation of filamin-mediated actin cytoskeleton.
Presenilin mutation; actin; filamin; γ-secretase; dentate gyrus; hilar neurons
A series of mitoxantrone (MTX) analogues have been designed, synthesized, and evaluated for binding to and stabilizing a stem–loop structure that serves as a splicing regulatory element in the pre-mRNA of tau, which is involved in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Several compounds showed significantly improved binding activity relative to the original screening hit mitoxantrone. These findings establish essential structure–activity relationships to further optimize the activity of this promising class of compounds.
β-site APP cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE1) is the transmembrane aspartyl protease that catalyzes the first cleavage step in the proteolysis of the amyloid β-protein precursor (APP) to the amyloid β-protein (Aβ), a process involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease. BACE1 pre-mRNA undergoes complex alternative splicing, the regulation of which is not well understood. We identified a G-rich sequence within exon 3 of BACE1 involved in controlling splice site selection. Mutation of the G-rich sequence decreased use of the normal 5′ splice site of exon 3, which leads to full-length and proteolytically active BACE1, and increased use of an alternative splice site, which leads to a shorter, essentially inactive isoform. Nuclease protection assays, nuclear magnetic resonance, and circular dichroism spectroscopy revealed that this sequence folds into a G-quadruplex structure. Several proteins were identified as capable of binding to the G-rich sequence, and one of these, heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein H (hnRNP H), was found to regulate BACE1 exon 3 alternative splicing and in a manner dependent on the G-rich sequence. Knockdown of hnRNP H led to a decrease in the full-length BACE1 mRNA isoform as well as a decrease in Aβ production from APP, suggesting new possibilities for therapeutic approaches to AD.
cis-acting elements; trans-factor proteins; mRNA splicing; protease; Alzheimer disease
The 19-transmembrane multi-subunit γ-secretase complex generates the amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by intramembrane proteolysis of the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP). Despite substantial advances in elucidating how this protein complex functions, the effect of the local membrane lipid microenvironment on γ-secretase cleavage of substrates is still poorly understood. Using detergent-free proteoliposomes to reconstitute purified human γ-secretase, we examined the effects of fatty acyl (FA) chain length, saturation and double-bond isomerisation, and membrane lipid polar head groups on γ-secretase function. We analyzed γ-secretase activity and processivity (i.e., sequential cleavages of the APP transmembrane domain that convert longer Aβ species (e.g., Aβ46) into shorter ones (e.g, Aβ40)) by quantifying the APP intracellular domain (AICD) and various Aβ peptides, including via a bicine/urea gel system that detects multiple Aβ lengths. These assays revealed several trends: (1) switching from a cis to a trans isomer of a monounsaturated FA chain in phosphatidylcholine (PC) increased γ-activity, did not affect Aβ42/40 ratios, but decreased the ratio of long (≥42) vs. short (≤41) Aβ peptides; (2) increasing FA carbon chain length (14<16<18<20) increased γ-activity, reduced longer Aβ species and reduced Aβ42/40; (3) shifting the position of the double bond in 18:1(Δ9-cis) PC to the Δ6 position substantially reduced activity; (4) gangliosides increased γ-activity but decreased processivity, thus elevating Aβ42/40; (5) phosphatidylserine decreased γ-activity but increased processivity; and (6) phosphatidylinositol strongly inhibited γ-activity. Overall, our results show that subtle changes in membrane lipid composition can greatly influence γ-secretase activity and processivity, suggesting that relatively small changes in lipid membrane composition may affect the risk of AD at least as much as do presenilin or APP mutations.
γ-Secretase is a membrane embedded aspartyl protease complex with presenilin as the catalytic component. Along with β-secretase, this enzyme produces the amyloid β-protein (Aβ) of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) from the amyloid β-protein precursor (APP). Because of its key role in the pathogenesis of AD, γ-secretase has been a prime target for drug discovery, and many inhibitors of this protease have been developed. The therapeutic potential of these inhibitors is virtually negated by the fact that γ-secretase is an essential part of the Notch signaling pathway, rendering the compounds unacceptably toxic upon chronic exposure. However, these compounds have served as useful chemical tools for biological investigations. In contrast, γ-secretase modulators continue to be of keen interest as possible AD therapeutics. These modulators either shift Aβ production to shorter, less pathogenic peptides or inhibit the proteolysis of APP selectively compared to that of Notch. The various chemical types of inhibitors and modulators will be discussed, along with their use as probes for basic biology and their potential as AD therapeutics.
protease; amyloid; active site; docking site; allosteric sites; chemical probes
The amyloid β-peptide (Aβ), strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is produced from the amyloid β-protein precursor (APP) through consecutive proteolysis by β- and γ-secretases. The latter protease contains presenilin as the catalytic component of a membrane-embedded aspartyl protease complex. Missense mutations in presenilin are associated with early-onset familial AD, and these mutations generally both decrease Aβ production and increase the proportion of the aggregation-prone 42-residue form (Aβ42) over the 40-residue form (Aβ40). The connection between these two effects is not understood. Besides Aβ40 and Aβ42, γ-secretase produces a range of Aβ peptides, the result of initial cutting at the ε site to form Aβ48 or Aβ49 and subsequent trimming every 3–4 residues. Thus, γ-secretase displays both overall proteolytic activity (ε cutting) and processivity (trimming) toward its substrate APP. Here we tested whether a decrease in total activity correlates with decreased processivity using wild type and AD-mutant presenilin-containing protease complexes. Changes in pH, temperature and salt concentration that reduced overall activity of the wild type enzyme did not consistently result in increased proportions of longer Aβ peptides. Low salt concentrations and acidic pH were notable exceptions that subtly alter the proportion of individual Aβ peptides, suggesting that the charged state of certain residues may influence processivity. Five different AD-mutant complexes, representing a broad range of effects on overall activity, Aβ42-to-Aβ40 ratios, and ages of disease onset were also tested, revealing again that changes in total activity and processivity can be dissociated. Factors that control initial proteolysis of APP at the ε site apparently differ significantly from factors affecting subsequent trimming and the distribution of Aβ peptides.
The intricate molecular mechanisms that regulate embryonic stem (ES) cell pluripotency are incompletely understood. Prior research indicated that activation of JAK-STAT3 pathway or inhibition of ERK/GSK3 signaling maintains mouse ES cell (mESC) pluripotency. Here we demonstrate that inhibition of protein kinase C (PKC) isoforms maintains mESC pluripotency without the activation of STAT3 or inhibition of ERK/GSK3 signaling pathways. Our analyses revealed that the atypical PKC isoform, PKCζ plays an important role in inducing lineage commitment in mESCs through a PKCζ–NF-κB signaling axis and inhibition of PKC isoforms maintains ES cell-specific epigenetic modifications. Furthermore, inhibition of PKC isoforms permits derivation of germline-competent ES cells from mouse blastocysts and also facilitates reprogramming of mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) towards induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Our results indicate that PKC signaling is critical to balancing ES cell self-renewal and lineage commitment.
Protein Kinase C; Embryonic Stem cells; Pluripotency; Induced pluripotency
Approximately 15% of human genetic diseases are estimated to involve dysregulation of alternative pre-mRNA splicing. Antisense molecules designed to alter these and other splicing events typically target continuous linear sequences of the message. Here, we show that a structural feature in a pre-mRNA can be targeted by bipartite antisense molecules designed to hybridize with the discontinuous elements that flank the structure and thereby alter splicing. We targeted a hairpin structure at the boundary between exon 10 and intron 10 of the pre-mRNA of tau. Mutations in this region that are associated with certain forms of frontotemporal dementia, destabilize the hairpin to cause increased inclusion of exon 10. Via electrophoretic mobility shift and RNase protection assays, we demonstrate that bipartite antisense molecules designed to simultaneously interact with the available sequences that immediately flank the tau pre-mRNA hairpin do indeed bind to this structured region. Moreover, these agents inhibit exon 10 splicing and reverse the effect of destabilizing disease-causing mutations, in both in vitro splicing assays and cell culture. This general bipartite antisense strategy could be employed to modulate other splicing events that are regulated by RNA secondary structure.
Presenilins were first discovered as sites of missense mutations responsible for early-onset Alzheimer disease (AD). The encoded multipass membrane proteins were subsequently found to be the catalytic components of γ-secretases, membrane-embedded aspartyl protease complexes responsible for generating the carboxyl terminus of the amyloid β-protein (Aβ) from the amyloid protein precursor (APP). The protease complex also cleaves a variety of other type I integral membrane proteins, most notably the Notch receptor, signaling from which is involved in many cell differentiation events. Although γ-secretase is a top target for developing disease-modifying AD therapeutics, interference with Notch signaling should be avoided. Compounds that alter Aβ production by γ-secretase without affecting Notch proteolysis and signaling have been identified and are currently at various stages in the drug development pipeline.
γ-Secretases produce amyloid β-protein in Alzheimer disease, but they also regulate Notch signaling. Drugs that alter amyloid β-protein production without affecting Notch signaling are currently under development.
The abnormal deposition of proteins in and around neurons is a common pathological feature of many neurodegenerative diseases. Among these pathological proteins, the microtubule-associated protein tau forms intraneuronal filaments in a spectrum of neurological disorders. The discovery that dominant mutations in the MAPT gene encoding tau are associated with familial frontotemporal dementia strongly supports abnormal tau protein as directly involved in disease pathogenesis. This and other evidence suggest that tau is a worthwhile target for the prevention or treatment of tau-associated neurodegenerative diseases, collectively called tauopathies. However, it is critical to understand the normal biological roles of tau, the specific molecular events that induce tau to become neurotoxic, the biochemical nature of pathogenic tau, the means by which pathogenic tau exerts neurotoxicity, and how tau pathology propagates. Based on known differences between normal and abnormal tau, a number of approaches have been taken toward the discovery of potential therapeutics. Key questions still remain open, such as the nature of the connection between the amyloid-β protein of Alzheimer's disease and tau pathology. Answers to these questions should help better understand the nature of tauopathies and may also reveal new therapeutic targets and strategies.
Presenilin is the catalytic component of γ-secretase, a complex aspartyl protease and a founding member of intramembrane-cleaving proteases. γ-Secretase is involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and a top target for therapeutic intervention. However, the protease complex processes a variety of transmembrane substrates, including the Notch receptor, raising concerns about toxicity. Nevertheless, γ-secretase inhibitors and modulators have been identified that allow Notch processing and signalling to continue, and promising compounds are entering clinical trials. Molecular and biochemical studies offer a model for how this protease hydrolyzes transmembrane domains in the confines of the lipid bilayer. Progress has also been made toward structure elucidation of presenilin and the γ-secretase complex by electron microscopy as well as by studying cysteine-mutant presenilins. The signal peptide peptidase (SPP) family of proteases are distantly related to presenilins. However, the SPPs work as single polypeptides without the need for cofactors and otherwise appear to be simple model systems for presenilin in the γ-secretase complex. SPP biology, structure, and inhibition will also be discussed.
amyloid; Notch receptor; peptidomimetics; signal peptide peptidase; substrate analogues; substrate recognition
Overwhelming evidence supports a central role for the amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and the proteases that produce Aβ from its precursor protein APP are top targets for therapeutic intervention. Considerable effort has focused on targeting γ-secretase, which generates the C-terminus of Aβ; however, γ-secretase inhibitors cause serious toxicities due to interference with the Notch signaling pathway. We have been working toward compounds that directly alter γ-secretase activity to reduce Aβ production without affecting the proteolysis of Notch. Using purified enzyme and substrate, we have shown that γ-secretase can be selectively inhibited in this way by naphthyl-substituted γ-aminoketones and γ-aminoalcohols. These early hits, however, suffered from chemical instability and/or poor potency. Iterative design, synthesis and evaluation have led to the discovery of Notch-sparing γ-secretase inhibitors with substantially increased potencies in biochemical and cellular assays. These compounds are of low molecular weight and are under evaluation for drug-like properties. The discovery and development of these compounds will be discussed.
Neuronal synaptic junction protein δ-catenin (CTNND2) is often overexpressed in prostatic adenocarcinomas but the mechanisms of its activation are unknown. To address this question, we studied the hypothesis that Hes1, human homolog of Drosophila Hairy and enhancer of split (Hes) 1, is a transcriptional repressor of δ-catenin expression and plays an important role in molecular carcinogenesis.
We identified that, using a δ-catenin promoter reporter assay, Hes1, but not its inactive mutant, significantly repressed the upregulation of δ-catenin-luciferase activities induced by E2F1. Hes1 binds directly to the E-boxes on δ-catenin promoter and can reduce the expression of δ-catenin in prostate cancer cells. In prostate cancer CWR22-Rv1 and PC3 cell lines, which showed distinct δ-catenin overexpression, E2F1 and Hes1 expression pattern was altered. The suppression of Hes1 expression, either by γ-secretase inhibitors or by siRNA against Hes1, increased δ-catenin expression. γ-Secretase inhibition delayed S/G2-phase transition during cell cycle progression and induced cell shape changes to extend cellular processes in prostate cancer cells. In neuroendocrine prostate cancer mouse model derived allograft NE-10 tumors, δ-catenin showed an increased expression while Hes1 expression was diminished. Furthermore, E2F1 transcription was very high in subgroup of NE-10 tumors in which Hes1 still displayed residual expression, while its expression was only moderately increased in NE-10 tumors where Hes1 expression was completely suppressed.
These studies support coordinated regulation of δ-catenin expression by both the activating transcription factor E2F1 and repressive transcription factor Hes1 in prostate cancer progression.
Some familial neurodegenerative diseases are associated with mutations that destabilize a putative stem-loop structure within an intronic region of the tau pre-mRNA and alter the production of tau protein isoforms by alternative splicing. Since stabilization of the stem loop reverses the splicing pattern associated with neurodegeneration, small molecules that stabilize this stem loop would provide new ways to dissect the mechanism of neurodegeneration and treat tauopathies. The anti-cancer drug mitoxantrone was recently identified in a high throughput screen to stabilize the tau pre-mRNA stem loop. Here we report the solution structure of the tau mRNA-mitoxantrone complex, validated by the structure-activity relationship of existing mitoxantrone analogs. The structure describes the molecular basis for their interaction with RNA and provides a rational basis to optimize the activity of this new class of RNA-binding molecules.
Tauopathies; Targeting RNA; RNA-small molecule; NMR
γ-Secretase is an intramembrane protease complex that mediates the Notch signaling pathway and the production of amyloid β-proteins. As such, this enzyme has emerged as an important target for development of novel therapeutics for Alzheimer disease and cancer. Great progress has been made in the identification and characterization of the membrane complex and its biological functions. One major challenge now is to illuminate the structure of this fascinating and important protease at atomic resolution. Here, we review recent progress on biochemical and biophysical probing of the structure of the four-component complex and discuss barriers and potential pathways toward elucidating its detailed structure.
γ-Secretase, an integral membrane protein complex, catalyzes the intramembrane cleavage of the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) during the neuronal production of the amyloid β-peptide (Aβ). As such, the protease has emerged as a key target for developing agents to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Existing biochemical studies conflict on the oligomeric assembly state of the protease complex, and its detailed structure is not known. Here, we report that purified active human γ-secretase in digitonin has a total molecular mass of ~230 kDa when measured by scanning transmission electron microscopy. This result supports a complex that is monomeric for each of the four component proteins. We further report the 3-dimensional structure of the γ-secretase complex at 12 Å resolution, as obtained by cryo-EM and single particle image reconstruction. The structure reveals several domains on the extracellular side, three solvent-accessible low-density cavities and a potential substrate-binding surface groove in the transmembrane region of the complex.
The 4 kDa amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) is strongly implicated the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and this peptide is cut out of the amyloid β-protein precursor (APP) by the sequential action of β- and γ-secretases. γ-Secretase is a membrane-embedded protease complex that cleaves the transmembrane region of APP to produce Aβ, and this protease is a top target for developing AD therapeutics. A number of inhibitors of the γ-secretase complex have been identified, including peptidomimetics that block the active site, helical peptides that interact with the initial substrate docking site, and other less peptide-like, more drug-like compounds. To date, one γ-secretase inhibitor has advanced into late-phase clinical trials for the treatment of AD, but serious concerns remain. The γ-secretase complex cleaves a number of other substrates, and γ-secretase inhibitors cause in vivo toxicities by blocking proteolysis of one essential substrate, the Notch receptor. Thus, compounds that modulate γ-secretase, rather than inhibit it, to selectively alter Aβ production without hindering signal transduction from the Notch receptor would be more ideal. Such modulators have been discovered and advanced, with one compound in late-phase clinical trials, renewing interest in γ-secretase as a therapeutic target.
Selective lowering of Aβ42 levels (the 42-residue isoform of the amyloid-β peptide) with small-molecule γ-secretase modulators (GSMs), such as some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, is a promising therapeutic approach for Alzheimer’s disease1. To identify the target of these agents we developed biotinylated photo-activatable GSMs. GSM photoprobes did not label the core proteins of the γ-secretase complex, but instead labelled the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP), APP carboxy-terminal fragments and amyloid-β peptide in human neuroglioma H4 cells. Substrate labelling was competed by other GSMs, and labelling of an APP γ-secretase substrate was more efficient than a Notch substrate. GSM interaction was localized to residues 28–36 of amyloid-β, a region critical for aggregation. We also demonstrate that compounds known to interact with this region of amyloid-β act as GSMs, and some GSMs alter the production of cell-derived amyloid-β oligomers. Furthermore, mutation of the GSM binding site in the APP alters the sensitivity of the substrate to GSMs. These findings indicate that substrate targeting by GSMs mechanistically links two therapeutic actions: alteration in Aβ42 production and inhibition of amyloid-β aggregation, which may synergistically reduce amyloid-β deposition in Alzheimer’s disease. These data also demonstrate the existence and feasibility of ‘substrate targeting’ by small-molecule effectors of proteolytic enzymes, which if generally applicable may significantly broaden the current notion of ‘druggable’ targets2.
γ-Secretase is a founding member of membrane-embedded aspartyl proteases that cleave substrates within transmembrane domains, and this enzyme is an important target for the development of therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease. The structure of γ-secretase and its precise catalytic mechanism still remain largely unknown. γ-Secretase is a complex of four integral membrane proteins, with presenilin (PS) as the catalytic component. To gain structural and functional information about the 9-transmembrane domain (TMD) presenilin, we employed a cysteine mutagenesis/disulfide-crosslinking approach. Here we report that native Cys92 is close to both Cys410 and Cys419, strongly implying that TMD1 and TMD8 are adjacent to each other. This structural arrangement also suggests that TMD8 is distorted from an ideal helix. Importantly, binding of an active-site directed inhibitor, but not a docking-site directed inhibitor, reduces the ability of the native cysteine pairs of PS1 to crosslink upon oxidation. These findings suggest that the conserved cysteines of TMD1 and TMD8 contribute to or allosterically interact with the active site of γ-secretase.
The amyloid-β peptide (Aβ), implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), is produced through sequential proteolysis of the Aβ precursor protein (APP) by β- and γ-secretases. Thus, blocking either of these two proteases, directly or indirectly, is potentially worthwhile toward developing AD therapeutics. β-Secretase is a membrane-tethered pepsin-like aspartyl protease suitable for structure-based design, whereas γ-secretase is an unusual, heterotetrameric membrane-embedded aspartyl protease. While γ-secretase inhibitors entered clinical trials first due to their superior pharmacological properties (for example, brain penetration) over β-secretase inhibitors, it has since become clear that γ-secretase inhibitors can cause mechanism-based toxicities owing to interference with the proteolysis of another γ-secretase substrate, the Notch receptor. Strategies for targeting Aβ production at the γ-secretase level without blocking Notch signalling will be discussed. Other strategies utilizing cell-based screening have led to the identification of novel Aβ lowering agents that likewise leave Notch proteolysis intact. The mechanism by which these agents lower Aβ is unknown, but these compounds may ultimately reveal new targets for AD therapeutics.