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Biochemistry. 1999 Apr 13;38(15):4720-7.

Peptidomimetic probes and molecular modeling suggest that Alzheimer's gamma-secretase is an intramembrane-cleaving aspartyl protease.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee 38163, USA.


The amyloid beta-protein (Abeta), implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), is a proteolytic metabolite generated by the sequential action of beta- and gamma-secretases on the amyloid precursor protein (APP). The two main forms of Abeta are 40- and 42-amino acid C-terminal variants, Abeta40 and Abeta42. We recently described a difluoro ketone peptidomimetic (1) that blocks Abeta production at the gamma-secretase level [Wolfe, M. S., et al. (1998) J. Med. Chem. 41, 6-9]. Although designed to inhibit Abeta42 production, 1 also effectively blocked Abeta40 formation. Various amino acid changes in 1 still resulted in inhibition of Abeta40 and Abeta42 production, suggesting relatively loose sequence specificity by gamma-secretase. The alcohol counterparts of selected difluoro ketones also lowered Abeta levels, indicating that the ketone carbonyl is not essential for activity and suggesting that these compounds inhibit an aspartyl protease. Selected compounds inhibited the aspartyl protease cathepsin D but not the cysteine protease calpain, corroborating previous suggestions that gamma-secretase is an aspartyl protease with some properties similar to those of cathepsin D. Also, since the gamma-secretase cleavage sites on APP are within the transmembrane region, we consider the hypothesis that this region binds to gamma-secretase as an alpha-helix and discuss the implications of this model for the mechanism of certain forms of hereditary AD.

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