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J Biol Chem. 2011 Oct 7;286(40):34914-22. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.232116. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

A high content drug screen identifies ursolic acid as an inhibitor of amyloid beta protein interactions with its receptor CD36.

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  • 1Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, USA.


A pathological hallmark of Alzheimer disease (AD) is deposition of amyloid β (Aβ) in the brain. Aβ binds to microglia via a receptor complex that includes CD36 leading to production of proinflammatory cytokines and neurotoxic reactive oxygen species and subsequent neurodegeneration. Interruption of Aβ binding to CD36 is a potential therapeutic strategy for AD. To identify pharmacologic inhibitors of Aβ binding to CD36, we developed a 384-well plate assay for binding of fluorescently labeled Aβ to Chinese hamster ovary cells stably expressing human CD36 (CHO-CD36) and screened an Food and Drug Administration-approved compound library. The assay was optimized based on the cells' tolerance to dimethyl sulfoxide, Aβ concentration, time required for Aβ binding, reproducibility, and signal-to-background ratio. Using this assay, we identified four compounds as potential inhibitors of Aβ binding to CD36. These compounds were ursolic acid, ellipticine, zoxazolamine, and homomoschatoline. Of these compounds, only ursolic acid, a naturally occurring pentacyclic triterpenoid, successfully inhibited binding of Aβ to CHO-CD36 cells in a dose-dependent manner. The ursolic acid effect reached a plateau at ~20 μm, with a maximal inhibition of 64%. Ursolic acid also blocked binding of Aβ to microglial cells and subsequent ROS production. Our data indicate that cell-based high-content screening of small molecule libraries for their ability to block binding of Aβ to its receptors is a useful tool to identify novel inhibitors of receptors involved in AD pathogenesis. Our data also suggest that ursolic acid is a potential therapeutic agent for AD via its ability to block Aβ-CD36 interactions.

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