Background: The aged brain exhibits a loss in gray matter and a decrease in spines and synaptic densities that may represent a sequela for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Membrane/lipid rafts (MLR), discrete regions of the plasmalemma enriched in cholesterol, glycosphingolipids, and sphingomyelin, are essential for the development and stabilization of synapses. Caveolin-1 (Cav-1), a cholesterol binding protein organizes synaptic signaling components within MLR. It is unknown whether loss of synapses is dependent on an age-related loss of Cav-1 expression and whether this has implications for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
Methodology/principal findings: We analyzed brains from young (Yg, 3-6 months), middle age (Md, 12 months), aged (Ag, >18 months), and young Cav-1 KO mice and show that localization of PSD-95, NR2A, NR2B, TrkBR, AMPAR, and Cav-1 to MLR is decreased in aged hippocampi. Young Cav-1 KO mice showed signs of premature neuronal aging and degeneration. Hippocampi synaptosomes from Cav-1 KO mice showed reduced PSD-95, NR2A, NR2B, and Cav-1, an inability to be protected against cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury compared to young WT mice, increased Aβ, P-Tau, and astrogliosis, decreased cerebrovascular volume compared to young WT mice. As with aged hippocampi, Cav-1 KO brains showed significantly reduced synapses. Neuron-targeted re-expression of Cav-1 in Cav-1 KO neurons in vitro decreased Aβ expression.
Conclusions: Therefore, Cav-1 represents a novel control point for healthy neuronal aging and loss of Cav-1 represents a non-mutational model for Alzheimer's disease.