Structural and Functional Determinants of gamma-Secretase, an Intramembrane Protease Implicated in Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of neurodegenerative diseases in humans, characterized by the progressive accumulation and aggregation of amyloid-beta peptides (Abeta) in brain regions subserving memory and cognition. These 39-43 amino acids long peptides are generated by the sequential proteolytic cleavages of the amyloid-beta precursor protein (APP) by beta- and gamma-secretases, with the latter being the founding member of a new class of intramembrane-cleaving proteases (I-CliPs) characterized by their intramembranous catalytic residues hydrolyzing the peptide bonds within the transmembrane regions of their respective substrates. These proteases include the S2P family of metalloproteases, the Rhomboid family of serine proteases, and two aspartyl proteases: the signal peptide peptidase (SPP) and gamma-secretase. In sharp contrast to Rhomboid and SPP that function as a single component, gamma-secretase is a multi-component protease with complex assembly, maturation and activation processes. Recently, two low-resolution three-dimensional structures of gamma-secretase and three high-resolution structures of the GlpG rhomboid protease have been obtained almost simultaneously by different laboratories. Although these proteases are unrelated by sequence or evolution, they seem to share common functional and structural mechanisms explaining how they catalyze intramembrane proteolysis. Indeed, a water-containing chamber in the catalytic cores of both gamma-secretase and GlpG rhomboid provides the hydrophilic environment required for proteolysis and a lateral gating mechanism controls substrate access to the active site. The studies that have identified and characterized the structural determinants critical for the assembly and activity of the gamma-secretase complex are reviewed here.