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J Neurochem. 2013 May;125(4):610-9. doi: 10.1111/jnc.12129. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Substrate determinants in the C99 juxtamembrane domains differentially affect γ-secretase cleavage specificity and modulator pharmacology.

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Global Research and Early Development, Merck Serono SA, Geneva, Switzerland.


The molecular mechanisms governing γ-secretase cleavage specificity are not fully understood. Herein, we demonstrate that extending the transmembrane domain of the amyloid precursor protein-derived C99 substrate in proximity to the cytosolic face strongly influences γ-secretase cleavage specificity. Sequential insertion of leucines or replacement of membrane-anchoring lysines by leucines elevated the production of Aβ42, whilst lowering production of Aβ40. A single insertion or replacement was sufficient to produce this phenotype, suggesting that the helical length distal to the ε-site is a critical determinant of γ-secretase cleavage specificity. Replacing the lysine at the luminal membrane border (K28) with glutamic acid (K28E) increased Aβ37 and reduced Aβ42 production. Maintaining a positive charge with an arginine replacement, however, did not alter cleavage specificity. Using two potent and structurally distinct γ-secretase modulators (GSMs), we elucidated the contribution of K28 to the modulatory mechanism. Surprisingly, whilst lowering the potency of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-type GSM, the K28E mutation converted a heteroaryl-type GSM to an inverse GSM. This result implies the proximal lysine is critical for the GSM mechanism and pharmacology. This region is likely a major determinant for substrate binding and we speculate that modulation of substrate binding is the fundamental mechanism by which GSMs exert their action.

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