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Nat Med. 1996 Jan;2(1):93-5.

Presence of soluble amyloid beta-peptide precedes amyloid plaque formation in Down's syndrome.

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Division of Neuropathology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.


Abnormal and excessive accumulation of the amyloid beta-peptide (A beta) in the brain is a major and common characteristic of all Alzheimer's disease (AD) forms irrespective of their genetic background. Insoluble aggregates of A beta are identified as amyloid plaques. These deposits are thought to form when the amount of A beta is increased in the brain parenchyma as a result of either overexpression or altered processing of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). Soluble A beta ending at carboxyl-terminal residue 40 (A beta 40) and, in lesser amount, the form ending at residue 42 (A beta 42), are normal products of the APP metabolism in cell cultures. Increased secretion of soluble A beta 42 has been observed in cells transfected with constructs modeling APP gene mutations of familial forms of AD (refs 4, 5). On the basis of these in vitro data it has been hypothesized that the presence of soluble A beta 42 plays a role in the formation of amyloid plaques. Subjects affected by Down's syndrome (DS) have an increased APP gene dosage and overexpress APP. Apparently because of this overexpression, they almost invariably develop amyloid deposits after the age of 30 years, although they are free of them at earlier ages. Moreover, it has been observed that A beta 42 precedes A beta 40 in the course of amyloid deposition in DS brain. Thus, DS subjects provide the opportunity to investigate in the human brain the metabolic conditions that precede the formation of the amyloid deposits. Here we report that soluble A beta 42 is present in the brains of DS-affected subjects aged from 21 gestational weeks to 61 years but it is undetectable in age-matched controls. It is argued that overexpression of APP leads specifically to A beta 42 increase and that the presence of the soluble A beta 42 is causally related to plaque formation in DS and, likely, in AD brains.

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