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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Jan 15;90(2):683-6.

Protease inhibitors and indoleamines selectively inhibit cholinesterases in the histopathologic structures of Alzheimer disease.

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Bullard and Denny-Brown Laboratories, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, MA.


Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques express acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase activity in Alzheimer disease. We previously reported that traditional acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as BW284C51, tacrine, and physostigmine were more potent inhibitors of the acetylcholinesterase in normal axons and cell bodies than of the acetylcholinesterase in plaques and tangles. We now report that the reverse pattern is seen with indoleamines (such as serotonin and its precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan), carboxypeptidase inhibitor, and the nonspecific protease inhibitor bacitracin. These substances are more potent inhibitors of the cholinesterases in plaques and tangles than of those in normal axons and cell bodies. These results show that the enzymatic properties of plaque and tangle-associated cholinesterases diverge from those of normal axons and cell bodies. The selective susceptibility to bacitracin and carboxypeptidase inhibitor indicates that the catalytic sites of plaque and tangle-bound cholinesterases are more closely associated with peptidase or protease-like properties than the catalytic sites of cholinesterases in normal axons and cell bodies. This shift in enzymatic affinity may lead to the abnormal protein processing that is thought to play a major role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease. The availability of pharmacological and dietary means for altering brain indoleamines raises therapeutic possibilities for inhibiting the abnormal cholinesterase activity associated with Alzheimer disease.

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