The amyloid cascade hypothesis: are we poised for success or failure?

J Neurochem. 2016 Oct;139 Suppl 2:237-252. doi: 10.1111/jnc.13632. Epub 2016 Jun 3.


The first description of Alzheimer's disease (AD) was made in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer (Allgemeine Zeitschrift fur Psyciatrie und Psychisch-Gerichtliche Medizin 64, 3, 1907), although other contemporary physicians had made similar, and rather more complete, assessments of the neuropathological changes present in the AD brain (Fischer, Monatsschr Psychiat Neurol 22, 17, 1907). Our knowledge of AD has increased dramatically and continues to accelerate. This year is 25 years after the publication of a series of papers that, in various ways, articulated the amyloid cascade hypothesis (ACH) for AD (Beyreuther and Masters, Brain Pathol 1, 241-251, 1991; Hardy and Allsop, Trends Pharmacol Sci 12, 383-388, 1991; Selkoe, Neuron 6, 487-498, 1991; Hardy and Higgins, Science 256, 184-185, 1992). This review will cover some familiar territory, but we shall also place the ACH into a wider context, compare it with other hypotheses for AD, explore the evolution of the hypothesis to encompass new findings, and determine, irrespective of the merits of the hypothesis itself, whether it has been useful for the research field, both in academia and in industry. Finally, we shall review how the ACH has led to a number of therapeutic approaches, all of which have, to date, failed to reach their primary efficacy end-points in clinical trials and reflect upon what the future may hold. We review the amyloid cascade hypothesis (ACH) and compare it with other hypotheses that have been posited to explain the initiation and progression Alzheimer's disease. We document the data that support the ACH, and also reflect upon its deficiencies. We list the recent clinical failures of amyloidocentric drugs and anticipate the results that new therapeutic approaches may deliver. This article is part of the 60th Anniversary special issue.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Amyloid cascade clinical development.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amyloid / genetics
  • Amyloid / metabolism
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism*
  • Amyloidogenic Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Amyloidogenic Proteins / genetics
  • Amyloidogenic Proteins / metabolism
  • Amyloidosis / genetics
  • Amyloidosis / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Amyloid
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Amyloidogenic Proteins
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal