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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1992 Dec 31;674:65-88.

The lysosomal system in neurons. Involvement at multiple stages of Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis.

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  • 1Laboratory for Molecular Neuroscience, Mailman Research Center, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Massachusetts 02178.


Disturbed lysosomal function may be implicated at several stages of Alzheimer's pathogenesis. Lysosomes and acid hydrolases accumulate in the majority of neocortical pyramidal neurons before typical degenerative changes can be detected, indicating that altered lysosome function is among the earliest markers of metabolic dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease. These early alterations could reflect accelerated membrane and protein turnover, defective lysosome or hydrolase function, abnormal lysosomal trafficking or any combination of these possibilities. Because APP is partly metabolized in lysosomes, early disturbances in lysosomal function could promote the production of abnormal and/or neurotoxic APP fragments within intact cells. Lysosomal abnormalities progressively worsen as neurons begin to degenerate. Based on existing literature on cell death, increased perturbation and instability of the lysosomal system may be expected to contribute to the atrophy and eventual lysis of the neuron. Finally, the release of hydrolase-filled lysosomes and lipofuscin aggregates from dying neurons accounts for the abundant deposition of enzymatically active acid hydrolases of all classes in the extracellular space--a phenomenon that may be unique to Alzheimer's disease. Acting on APP present in surrounding dystrophic neurites, cellular debris and astrocyte processes, dysregulated hydrolases may cleave APP in atypical sequential patterns, thereby generating self-aggregating protease-resistant APP fragments that can be only processed to beta-amyloid. Genetic mutations or posttranslational factors of APP should further enhance the generation of amyloidogenic fragments by a dysregulated lysosomal system. Given that very little, if any, beta-amyloid is detected intracellularly, yet extracellular beta-amyloid is very abundant, our data suggest that the final steps of APP processing and the generation of most beta-amyloid in the brain parenchyma occur extracellularly and may involve one or more lysosomal proteases.

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