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Am J Pathol. 2008 Sep;173(3):665-81. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2008.071176. Epub 2008 Aug 7.

Neuronal apoptosis and autophagy cross talk in aging PS/APP mice, a model of Alzheimer's disease.

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Center for Dementia Research, Nathan Kline Institute, New York University School of Medicine, 140 Old Orangeburg Rd., Bldg. 39, Orangeburg, NY 10962, USA.


Mechanisms of neuronal loss in Alzheimer's disease (AD) are poorly understood. Here we show that apoptosis is a major form of neuronal cell death in PS/APP mice modeling AD-like neurodegeneration. Pyknotic neurons in adult PS/APP mice exhibited apoptotic changes, including DNA fragmentation, caspase-3 activation, and caspase-cleaved alpha-spectrin generation, identical to developmental neuronal apoptosis in wild-type mice. Ultrastructural examination using immunogold cytochemistry confirmed that activated caspase-3-positive neurons also exhibited chromatin margination and condensation, chromatin balls, and nuclear membrane fragmentation. Numbers of apoptotic profiles in both cortex and hippocampus of PS/APP mice compared with age-matched controls were twofold to threefold higher at 6 months of age and eightfold higher at 21 to 26 months of age. Additional neurons undergoing dark cell degeneration exhibited none of these apoptotic features. Activated caspase-3 and caspase-3-cleaved spectrin were abundant in autophagic vacuoles, accumulating in dystrophic neurites of PS/APP mice similar to AD brains. Administration of the cysteine protease inhibitor, leupeptin, promoted accumulation of autophagic vacuoles containing activated caspase-3 in axons of PS/APP mice and, to a lesser extent, in those of wild-type mice, implying that this pro-apoptotic factor is degraded by autophagy. Leupeptin-induced autophagic impairment increased the number of apoptotic neurons in PS/APP mice. Our findings establish apoptosis as a mode of neuronal cell death in aging PS/APP mice and identify the cross talk between autophagy and apoptosis, which influences neuronal survival in AD-related neurodegeneration.

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