Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common dementia-causing disorder in the elderly; it may be related to multiple risk factors, and is characterized pathologically by cerebral hypometabolism, paravascular β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) plaques, neuritic dystrophy, and intra-neuronal aggregation of phosphorylated tau. To explore potential pathogenic links among some of these lesions, we examined β-secretase-1 (BACE1) alterations relative to Aβ deposition, neuritic pathology and vascular organization in aged monkey and AD human cerebral cortex. Western blot analyses detected increased levels of BACE1 protein and β-site-cleavage amyloid precursor protein C-terminal fragments in plaque-bearing human and monkey cortex relative to controls. In immunohistochemistry, locally elevated BACE1 immunoreactivity (IR) occurred in AD but not in control human cortex, with a trend for increased overall density among cases with greater plaque pathology. In double-labeling preparations, BACE1 IR colocalized with immunolabeling for Aβ but not for phosphorylated tau. In perfusion-fixed monkey cortex, locally increased BACE1 IR co-existed with intra-axonal and extracellular Aβ IR among virtually all neuritic plaques, ranging from primitive to typical cored forms. This BACE1 labeling localized to swollen/sprouting axon terminals that might co-express one or another neuronal phenotype markers (GABAergic, glutamatergic, cholinergic, or catecholaminergic). Importantly, these BACE1-labeled dystrophic axons resided near to or in direct contact with blood vessels. These findings suggest that plaque formation in AD or normal aged primates relates to a multisystem axonal pathogenesis that occurs in partnership with a potential vascular or metabolic deficit. The data provide a mechanistic explanation for why senile plaques are present preferentially near the cerebral vasculature.
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