Background: Understanding the mechanisms of amyloid-beta protein (Abeta) production and clearance in the brain has been essential to elucidating the etiology of Alzheimer disease (AD). Chronically decreasing brain Abeta levels is an emerging therapeutic approach for AD, but no such disease-modifying agents have achieved clinical validation. Certain proteases are responsible for the catabolism of brain Abeta in vivo, and some experimental evidence suggests they could be used as therapeutic tools to reduce Abeta levels in AD. The objective of this study was to determine if enhancing the clearance of Abeta in the brain by ex vivo gene delivery of an Abeta-degrading protease can reduce amyloid plaque burden.
Methods and findings: We generated a secreted form of the Abeta-degrading protease neprilysin, which significantly lowers the levels of naturally secreted Abeta in cell culture. We then used an ex vivo gene delivery approach utilizing primary fibroblasts to introduce this soluble protease into the brains of beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mice with advanced plaque deposition. Brain examination after cell implantation revealed robust clearance of plaques at the site of engraftment (72% reduction, p = 0.0269), as well as significant reductions in plaque burden in both the medial and lateral hippocampus distal to the implantation site (34% reduction, p = 0.0020; and 55% reduction, p = 0.0081, respectively).
Conclusions: Ex vivo gene delivery of an Abeta-degrading protease reduces amyloid plaque burden in transgenic mice expressing human APP. These results support the use of Abeta-degrading proteases as a means to therapeutically lower Abeta levels and encourage further exploration of ex vivo gene delivery for the treatment of Alzheimer disease.