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J Biol Chem. 1998 May 22;273(21):12817-26.

Dramatic aggregation of Alzheimer abeta by Cu(II) is induced by conditions representing physiological acidosis.

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Department of Psychiatry and Genetics and Aging Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


The cortical deposition of Abeta is an event that occurs in Alzheimer's disease, Down's syndrome, head injury, and normal aging. Previously, in appraising the effects of different neurochemical factors that impact upon the solubility of Abeta, we observed that Zn2+ was the predominant bioessential metal to induce the aggregation of soluble Abeta at pH 7.4 in vitro and that this reaction is totally reversible with chelation. We now report that unlike other biometals tested at maximal biological concentrations, marked Cu2+-induced aggregation of Abeta1-40 emerged as the solution pH was lowered from 7.4 to 6.8 and that the reaction was completely reversible with either chelation or alkalinization. This interaction was comparable to the pH-dependent effect of Cu2+ on insulin aggregation but was not seen for aprotinin or albumin. Abeta1-40 bound three to four Cu2+ ions when precipitated at pH 7.0. Rapid, pH-sensitive aggregation occurred at low nanomolar concentrations of both Abeta1-40 and Abeta1-42 with submicromolar concentrations of Cu2+. Unlike Abeta1-40, Abeta1-42 was precipitated by submicromolar Cu2+ concentrations at pH 7.4. Rat Abeta1-40 and histidine-modified human Abeta1-40 were not aggregated by Zn2+, Cu2+, or Fe3+, indicating that histidine residues are essential for metal-mediated Abeta assembly. These results indicate that H+-induced conformational changes unmask a metal-binding site on Abeta that mediates reversible assembly of the peptide. Since a mildly acidic environment together with increased Zn2+ and Cu2+ are common features of inflammation, we propose that Abeta aggregation by these factors may be a response to local injury. Cu2+, Zn2+, and Fe3+ association with Abeta explains the recently reported enrichment of these metal ions in amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's disease.

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