The accumulation of Aβ (amyloid β-protein) peptides in the brain is a pathological hallmark of all forms of AD (Alzheimer's disease) and reducing Aβ levels can prevent or reverse cognitive deficits in mouse models of the disease. Aβ is produced continuously and its concentration is determined in part by the activities ofseveral degradative enzymes, including NEP (neprilysin), IDE (insulin-degrading enzyme), ECE-1 (endothelinconverting enzyme 1) and ECE-2, and probably plasmin. Decreased activity of any of these enzymes due to genetic mutation, or age- or disease-related alterations in gene expression or proteolytic activity, may increase the risk for AD. Conversely, increased expression of these enzymes may confer a protective effect. Increasing Aβ degradation through gene therapy, transcriptional activation or even pharmacological activation of the Aβ-degrading enzymes represents a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of AD that is currently being evaluated in cell-culture and animal models. In this paper, we will review the roles of NEP, IDE, ECE and plasmin in determining endogenous Aβ concentration, highlighting recent results concerning the regulation of these enzymes and their potential as therapeutic targets.

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