Journal article

Perturbations of the Straight Transmembrane alpha-Helical Structure of the Amyloid Precursor Protein Affect Its Processing by gamma-Secretase

Background: Amyloid- neurotoxicity depends on the specificity of the proteolytic cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) transmembrane domain. Results: The APP transmembrane -helix is straight in a biological membrane bilayer. Conclusion: The flexibility of APP is key for adapting to the lipid environment and modulating proteolytic processing by -secretase. Significance: The dynamic characterization of APP is expected to rationalize the design of -secretase modulators. The amyloid precursor protein (APP) is a widely expressed type I transmembrane (TM) glycoprotein present at the neuronal synapse. The proteolytic cleavage by -secretase of its C-terminal fragment produces amyloid- (A) peptides of different lengths, the deposition of which is an early indicator of Alzheimer disease. At present, there is no consensus on the conformation of the APP-TM domain at the biological membrane. Although structures have been determined by NMR in detergent micelles, their conformation is markedly different. Here we show by using molecular simulations that the APP-TM region systematically prefers a straight -helical conformation once embedded in a membrane bilayer. However, APP-TM is highly flexible, and its secondary structure is strongly influenced by the surrounding lipid environment, as when enclosed in detergent micelles. This behavior is confirmed when analyzing in silico the atomistic APP-TM population observed by residual dipolar couplings and double electron-electron resonance spectroscopy. These structural and dynamic features are critical in the proteolytic processing of APP by the -secretase enzyme, as suggested by a series of Gly(700) mutants. Affecting the hydration and flexibility of APP-TM, these mutants invariantly show an increase in the production of A38 compared with A40 peptides, which is reminiscent of the effect of -secretase modulators inhibitors.


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