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Neurodegenerative diseases associated with abnormal protein folding and ordered aggregation require an initial trigger which may be infectious, inherited, post-inflammatory or idiopathic. Proteolytic cleavage to generate vulnerable precursors, such as amyloid-beta peptide (Abeta) production via beta and gamma secretases in Alzheimer's Disease (AD), is one such trigger, but the proteolytic removal of these fragments is also aetiologically important. The levels of Abeta in the central nervous system are regulated by several catabolic proteases, including insulysin (IDE) and neprilysin (NEP). The known association of human acetylcholinesterase (hAChE) with pathological aggregates in AD together with its ability to increase Abeta fibrilization prompted us to search for proteolytic triggers that could enhance this process. The hAChE C-terminal domain (T40, AChE(575-614)) is an exposed amphiphilic alpha-helix involved in enzyme oligomerisation, but it also contains a conformational switch region (CSR) with high propensity for conversion to non-native (hidden) beta-strand, a property associated with amyloidogenicity. A synthetic peptide (AChE(586-599)) encompassing the CSR region shares homology with Abeta and forms beta-sheet amyloid fibrils. We investigated the influence of IDE and NEP proteolysis on the formation and degradation of relevant hAChE beta-sheet species. By combining reverse-phase HPLC and mass spectrometry, we established that the enzyme digestion profiles on T40 versus AChE(586-599), or versus Abeta, differed. Moreover, IDE digestion of T40 triggered the conformational switch from alpha- to beta-structures, resulting in surfactant CSR species that self-assembled into amyloid fibril precursors (oligomers). Crucially, these CSR species significantly increased Abeta fibril formation both by seeding the energetically unfavorable formation of amyloid nuclei and by enhancing the rate of amyloid elongation. Hence, these results may offer an explanation for observations that implicate hAChE in the extent of Abeta deposition in the brain. Furthermore, this process of heterologous amyloid seeding by a proteolytic fragment from another protein may represent a previously underestimated pathological trigger, implying that the abundance of the major amyloidogenic species (Abeta in AD, for example) may not be the only important factor in neurodegeneration.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Acetylcholinesterase, Aged, Alzheimer Disease, Amino Acid Sequence, Amyloid, Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases, Amyloid beta-Peptides, Chromosome Mapping, Chromosomes, Human, Pair 10, Humans, Huntington Disease, Insulysin, Molecular Sequence Data, Neprilysin, Parkinson Disease, Peptide Fragments, Prion Diseases, Protein Conformation