Extracellular phosphorylation of the amyloid beta-peptide promotes formation of toxic aggregates during the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and associated with progressive deposition of amyloid β-peptides (Aβ) in the brain. Aβ derives by sequential proteolytic processing of the amyloid precursor protein by β- and γ-secretases. Rare mutations that lead to amino-acid substitutions within or close to the Aβ domain promote the formation of neurotoxic Aβ assemblies and can cause early-onset AD. However, mechanisms that increase the aggregation of wild-type Aβ and cause the much more common sporadic forms of AD are largely unknown. Here, we show that extracellular Aβ undergoes phosphorylation by protein kinases at the cell surface and in cerebrospinal fluid of the human brain. Phosphorylation of serine residue 8 promotes formation of oligomeric Aβ assemblies that represent nuclei for fibrillization. Phosphorylated Aβ was detected in the brains of transgenic mice and human AD brains and showed increased toxicity in Drosophila models as compared with non-phosphorylated Aβ. Phosphorylation of Aβ could represent an important molecular mechanism in the pathogenesis of the most common sporadic form of AD.