Presenilin-directed inhibitors of gamma-secretase trigger caspase 3 activation in presenilin-expressing and presenilin-deficient cells

J Neurochem. 2004 Aug;90(4):800-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2004.02512.x.


The amyloid beta peptide (Abeta) is generated by subsequent cleavages by beta- and gamma-secretases. Therefore, these two enzymes are putative therapeutic targets to prevent Abeta production, and hopefully to slow down or even stop the Alzheimer's disease (AD) neurodegenerative process. Several studies have revealed that gamma-secretase hydrolyses other important substrates besides beta-amyloid precursor protein (betaAPP) thus adding another level of complexity to designing fully AD-specific interfering drugs. Here we demonstrate that three distinct presenilin-directed gamma-secretase inhibitors as well as JLK compounds indirectly potentiate caspase 3 activity, the effector caspase of the apoptotic cascade. Thus, inhibitors were shown to drastically stimulate caspase 3 activity in wild-type mice blastocyst-derived and fibroblast cells. Interestingly, some of these inhibitors known to interact with presenilins also trigger caspase activation in presenilin-deficient cells. However, inhibitors do not affect recombinant caspase 3 activity, indicating that the effect on this enzyme was indirect. Furthermore, we established that caspase 3 activation was not due to an effect of gamma-secretase inhibitors on calpains, a family of proteolytic enzymes able to modulate caspase 3 activity. Altogether, our data demonstrate that presenilin-directed gamma-secretase inhibitors affect caspase 3 activity in a presenilin-independent manner. Therefore, as presenilin-dependent gamma-secretase activity is not specific for betaAPP and because its inhibitors clearly affect other vital cell functions, care should be taken in considering 'gamma-secretase' inhibitors as putative therapeutic tools to interfere with AD pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases
  • Blastocyst / cytology
  • Blastocyst / drug effects*
  • Blastocyst / metabolism
  • Calpain / drug effects
  • Calpain / metabolism
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / drug effects
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endopeptidases / drug effects*
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / deficiency
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Presenilin-1
  • Presenilin-2


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Presenilin-1
  • Presenilin-2
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases
  • Endopeptidases
  • Calpain
  • Casp3 protein, mouse
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases
  • Bace1 protein, mouse