Burgeoning evidence suggests that soluble oligomers of Aβ (amyloid β-protein) are the earliest effectors of synaptic compromise in Alzheimer's disease. Whereas most other investigators have employed synthetic Aβ peptides, we have taken advantage of a β-amyloid precursor protein-overexpressing cell line (referred to as 7PA2) that secretes sub-nanomolar levels of low-n oligomers of Aβ. These are composed of heterogeneous Aβ peptides that migrate on SDS/PAGE as dimers, trimers and tetramers. When injected into the lateral ventricle of rats in vivo, these soluble oligomers inhibit hippocampal long-term potentiation and alter the memory of a complex learned behaviour. Biochemical manipulation of 7PA2 medium including immunodepletion with Aβ-specific antibodies and fractionation by size-exclusion chromatography allowed us to unambiguously attribute these effects to low-n oligomers. Using this paradigm we have tested compounds directed at three prominent amyloid-based therapeutic targets: inhibition of the secretases responsible for Aβ production, inhibition of Aβ aggregation and immunization against Aβ. In each case, compounds capable of reducing oligomer production or antibodies that avidly bind Aβ oligomers also ameliorate the synaptotoxic effects of these natural, cell-derived oligomers.

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