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J Biol Chem. 2004 Dec 3;279(49):51451-9. Epub 2004 Sep 27.

Fibrillar amyloid-beta peptides kill human primary neurons via NADPH oxidase-mediated activation of neutral sphingomyelinase. Implications for Alzheimer's disease.

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  • 1Section of Neuroscience, Department of Oral Biology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Lincoln, Nebraska 68583, USA.


Alzheimer's disease is a major illness of dementia characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and extensive neuronal apoptosis. However, the mechanism behind neuronal apoptosis in the Alzheimer's-diseased brain is poorly understood. This study underlines the importance of neutral sphingomyelinase in fibrillar Abeta peptide-induced apoptosis and cell death in human primary neurons. Abeta1-42 peptides induced the activation of sphingomyelinases and the production of ceramide in neurons. Interestingly, neutral (N-SMase), but not acidic (A-SMase), sphingomyelinase was involved in Abeta1-42-mediated neuronal apoptosis and cell death. Abeta1-42-induced production of ceramide was redox-sensitive, as reactive oxygen species were involved in the activation of N-SMase but not A-SMase. Abeta1-42 peptides induced the NADPH oxidase-mediated production of superoxide radicals in neurons that was involved in the activation of N-SMase, but not A-SMase, via hydrogen peroxide. Consistently, superoxide radicals generated by hypoxanthine and xanthine oxidase also induced the activation of N-SMase, but not A-SMase, through a catalase-sensitive pathway. Furthermore, antisense knockdown of p22phox, a subunit of NADPH oxidase, inhibited Abeta1-42-induced neuronal apoptosis and cell death. These studies suggest that fibrillar Abeta1-42 peptides induce neuronal apoptosis through the NADPH oxidase-superoxide-hydrogen peroxide-NS-Mase-ceramide pathway.

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