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Finding an Alzheimer's switch

BERKELEY, CA -- Researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered an unsuspected subunit of the protein complex gamma-secretase, which plays a central role in Alzheimer's disease. The researchers have shown that the newly discovered component, the protein CD147, regulates the production of the toxic peptides that cause amyloid plaques, the brain lesions that are the defining feature of Alzheimer's.

"Alzheimer's is worse than a disease -- it takes the soul of a human being," says Bing Jap of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division, in whose laboratory the new component was identified. "As the population of this country ages, the incidence of Alzheimer's is increasing, at a terrible increase in cost to society. Research leading to prevention or treatment is urgent."

The discovery and role of CD147 as a subunit of gamma-secretase by Jap and his colleagues Shuxia Zhou, Hua Zhou, and Peter Walian is reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in an article now in the online early edition of PNAS at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0502768102v1?etoc.

How Alzheimer's works:

The most persuasive hypothesis of how Alzheimer's disease invades the brain is the so-called "amyloid beta protein cascade," in which a protein called APP is clipped into shorter pieces by enzymes known as secretases. (APP stands for "amyloid precursor protein"; it is found in many tissues besides brain, but its functions are largely unknown.) If the portion of APP clipped by the beta form of secretase is further clipped by a third form, gamma secretase, the resulting fragments are amyloid beta peptides, A-beta 40 and A-beta 42. A?beta 42 in particular is toxic and causes the formation of amyloid plaques.

Unlike the majority of membrane proteins, gamma-secretase performs its proteolytic function neither inside n
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Contact: Paul Preuss
paul_preuss@lbl.gov
510-486-6249
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
13-May-2005


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