In vitro studies of amyloid beta-protein fibril assembly and toxicity provide clues to the aetiology of Flemish variant (Ala692-->Gly) Alzheimer's disease.
In a Flemish kindred, an Ala(692)-->Gly amino acid substitution in the amyloid beta-protein precursor (AbetaPP) causes a form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease (AD) which displays prominent amyloid angiopathy and unusually large senile plaque cores. The mechanistic basis of this Flemish form of AD is unknown. Previous in vitro studies of amyloid beta-protein (Abeta) production in HEK-293 cells transfected with cDNA encoding Flemish AbetaPP have shown that full-length [Abeta(1-40)] and truncated [Abeta(5-40) and Abeta(11-40)] forms of Abeta are produced. In an effort to determine how these peptides might contribute to the pathogenesis of the Flemish disease, comparative biophysical and neurotoxicity studies were performed on wild-type and Flemish Abeta(1-40), Abeta(5-40) and Abeta(11-40). The results revealed that the Flemish amino acid substitution increased the solubility of each form of peptide, decreased the rate of formation of thioflavin-T-positive assemblies, and increased the SDS-stability of peptide oligomers. Although the kinetics of peptide assembly were altered by the Ala(21)-->Gly substitution, all three Flemish variants formed fibrils, as did the wild-type peptides. Importantly, toxicity studies using cultured primary rat cortical cells showed that the Flemish assemblies were as potent a neurotoxin as were the wild-type assemblies. Our results are consistent with a pathogenetic process in which conformational changes in Abeta induced by the Ala(21)-->Gly substitution would facilitate peptide adherence to the vascular endothelium, creating nidi for amyloid growth. Increased peptide solubility and assembly stability would favour formation of larger deposits and inhibit their elimination. In addition, increased concentrations of neurotoxic assemblies would accelerate neuronal injury and death.