Viral gene transfer of APPsα rescues synaptic failure in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model

Acta Neuropathol. 2016 Feb;131(2):247-266. doi: 10.1007/s00401-015-1498-9. Epub 2015 Nov 4.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by synaptic failure, dendritic and axonal atrophy, neuronal death and progressive loss of cognitive functions. It is commonly assumed that these deficits arise due to β-amyloid accumulation and plaque deposition. However, increasing evidence indicates that loss of physiological APP functions mediated predominantly by neurotrophic APPsα produced in the non-amyloidogenic α-secretase pathway may contribute to AD pathogenesis. Upregulation of APPsα production via induction of α-secretase might, however, be problematic as this may also affect substrates implicated in tumorigenesis. Here, we used a gene therapy approach to directly overexpress APPsα in the brain using AAV-mediated gene transfer and explored its potential to rescue structural, electrophysiological and behavioral deficits in APP/PS1∆E9 AD model mice. Sustained APPsα overexpression in aged mice with already preexisting pathology and amyloidosis restored synaptic plasticity and partially rescued spine density deficits. Importantly, AAV-APPsα treatment also resulted in a functional rescue of spatial reference memory in the Morris water maze. Moreover, we demonstrate a significant reduction of soluble Aβ species and plaque load. In addition, APPsα induced the recruitment of microglia with a ramified morphology into the vicinity of plaques and upregulated IDE and TREM2 expression suggesting enhanced plaque clearance. Collectively, these data indicate that APPsα can mitigate synaptic and cognitive deficits, despite established pathology. Increasing APPsα may therefore be of therapeutic relevance for AD.

Keywords: AAV; APPsα; Alzheimer; Amyloid precursor protein; Behavior; Gene therapy; Microglia; Spines; Synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases / genetics
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases / metabolism*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dependovirus / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genetic Therapy* / methods
  • Genetic Vectors / administration & dosage
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Plaque, Amyloid / pathology
  • Plaque, Amyloid / physiopathology
  • Presenilin-1 / genetics
  • Presenilin-1 / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • APP protein, human
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • PSEN1 protein, human
  • Presenilin-1
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases