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J Biol Chem. 2006 Oct 20;281(42):31279-89. Epub 2006 Aug 9.

Intra- or intercomplex binding to the gamma-secretase enzyme. A model to differentiate inhibitor classes.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Merck Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories, the Neuroscience Research Centre, Terlings Park, Harlow, Essex CM20 2QR, United Kingdom.


Gamma-secretase is one of the critical enzymes required for the generation of amyloid-beta peptides from the beta-amyloid precursor protein. Because amyloid-beta peptides are generally accepted to play a key role in Alzheimer disease, gamma-secretase inhibition holds the promise for a disease-modifying therapy for this neurodegenerative condition. Although recent progress has enhanced the understanding of the biology and composition of the gamma-secretase enzyme complex, less information is available on the actual interaction of various inhibitor classes with the enzyme. Here we show that the two principal classes of inhibitor described in the scientific and patent literature, aspartyl protease transition state analogue and small molecule non-transition state inhibitors, display fundamental differences in the way they interact with the enzyme. Taking advantage of a gamma-secretase enzyme overexpressing cellular system and different radiolabeled gamma-secretase inhibitors, we observed that the maximal binding of non-transition state gamma-secretase inhibitors accounts only for half the number of catalytic sites of the recombinant enzyme complex. This characteristic stoichiometry can be best accommodated with a model whereby the non-transition state inhibitors bind to a unique site at the interface of a dimeric enzyme. Subsequent competition studies confirm that this site appears to be targeted by the main classes of small molecule gamma-secretase inhibitor. In contrast, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug gamma-secretase modulator sulindac sulfide displayed noncompetitive antagonism for all types of inhibitor. This finding suggests that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-type gamma-secretase modulators target an alternative site on the enzyme, thereby changing the conformation of the binding sites for gamma-secretase inhibitors.

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