Several independent studies show that accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptides, one of the characteristic hallmark of Alzheimer's Disease (AD), can affect normal neuronal activity in different ways. However, in spite of intense experimental work to explain the possible underlying mechanisms of action, a comprehensive and congruent understanding is still lacking. Part of the problem might be the opposite ways in which Aβ have been experimentally found to affect the normal activity of a neuron; for example, making a neuron more excitable (by reducing the A- or DR-type K(+) currents) or less excitable (by reducing synaptic transmission and Na(+) current). The overall picture is therefore confusing, since the interplay of many mechanisms makes it difficult to link individual experimental findings with the more general problem of understanding the progression of the disease. This is an important issue, especially for the development of new drugs trying to ameliorate the effects of the disease. We addressed these paradoxes through computational models. We first modeled the different stages of AD by progressively modifying the intrinsic membrane and synaptic properties of a realistic model neuron, while accounting for multiple and different experimental findings and by evaluating the contribution of each mechanism to the overall modulation of the cell's excitability. We then tested a number of manipulations of channel and synaptic activation properties that could compensate for the effects of Aβ. The model predicts possible therapeutic treatments in terms of pharmacological manipulations of channels' kinetic and activation properties. The results also suggest how and which mechanisms can be targeted by a drug to restore the original firing conditions.
Keywords: Aβ-peptide; hippocampal neuron; ion channels modulation; realistic model.