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Am J Pathol. 2009 Jul;175(1):262-70. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.081054. Epub 2009 Jun 18.

Endothelin-converting enzyme-2 is increased in Alzheimer's disease and up-regulated by Abeta.

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  • 1Dementia Research Group, Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, United Kingdom.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is thought to be caused by the accumulation of amyloid beta (Abeta) peptide within the brain. Endothelin-converting enzyme-2 (ECE-2), which is expressed in neural tissues, cleaves 'big endothelin' to produce the vasoconstrictor endothelin-1. ECE-2 also degrades Abeta. We have examined ECE-2 expression in the temporal cortex of brain tissue from patients with AD, vascular dementia, and controls. Immunohistochemistry with specific antibodies showed ECE-2 to be abundant within pyramidal neurons in both the hippocampus and neocortex, but also to be present in certain astrocytes and microglia, particularly in AD brains. Quantitative real-time PCR showed ECE-2 mRNA to be markedly elevated in AD but not in vascular dementia. ECE-2 protein concentration, measured by sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, was also significantly elevated in AD but not in vascular dementia. Exposure of SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells to monomeric or oligomeric Abeta(1-42) caused an initial decrease in ECE-2 mRNA at 4 hours, but a marked increase by 24 hours. Our findings indicate that Abeta accumulation in AD is unlikely to be caused by ECE-2 deficiency. However, ECE-2 expression is up-regulated, perhaps to minimize Abeta accumulation, but this may also be a mechanism through which endothelin-1 production is increased and cerebral blood flow is reduced in AD. Our findings suggest that endothelin-1 receptor antagonists, already licensed for treating other diseases, could be of benefit in AD therapies.

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