Amyloid β-protein (Aβ) has been implicated as an early and essential factor in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. Although its cellular production has been studied extensively, little is known about Aβ clearance. Recently, insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), a 110-kDa metalloendopeptidase, was found to degrade both endogenously secreted and synthetic Aβ peptides. Surprisingly, IDE-mediated proteolysis of [125I]Aβ(1-40) in microglial cell-culture media was accompanied by the formation of 125I-labelled peptides with higher apparent molecular masses, raising the possibility that the degradation products act as ‘seeds’ for Aβ oligomerization. To directly address the role of IDE in Aβ degradation and oligomerization, we investigated the action of purified recombinant wild-type and catalytically inactive IDEs. Our data demonstrate that (i) IDE alone is sufficient to cleave purified Aβ that is either unlabelled, iodinated or 35S-labelled; (ii) the initial cleavage sites are His14–Gln15, Phe19–Phe20 and Phe20–Ala21; and (iii) incubation of IDE with [125I]Aβ, but not with [35S]-Aβ, leads to the formation of slower migrating species on gels. Since iodination labels N-terminal fragments of Aβ, and 35S labels C-terminal products, we analysed unlabelled synthetic fragments of Aβ and determined that only the N-terminal fragments migrate with anomalously high molecular mass. These results indicate that IDE alone is sufficient to degrade Aβ at specific sites, and that its degradation products do not promote oligomerization of the intact Aβ peptide.

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Author notes

1

These authors contributed equally to this work.