Cell-cell communication in the brain is controlled by multiple mechanisms, including proteolysis. Membrane-bound proteases generate signaling molecules from membrane-bound precursor proteins and control the length and function of cell surface membrane proteins. These proteases belong to different families, including members of the "a disintegrin and metalloprotease" (ADAM), the beta-site amyloid precursor protein cleaving enzymes (BACE), membrane-type matrix metalloproteases (MT-MMP) and rhomboids. Some of these proteases, in particular ADAM10 and BACE1 have been shown to be essential not only for the correct development of the mammalian brain, but also for myelination and maintaining neuronal connections in the adult nervous system. Additionally, these proteases are considered as drug targets for brain diseases, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), schizophrenia and cancer. Despite their biomedical relevance, the molecular functions of these proteases in the brain have not been explored in much detail, as little was known about their substrates. This has changed with the recent development of novel proteomic methods which allow to identify substrates of membrane-bound proteases from cultured cells, primary neurons and other primary brain cells and even in vivo from minute amounts of mouse cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This review summarizes the recent advances and highlights the strengths of the individual proteomic methods. Finally, using the example of the Alzheimer-related proteases BACE1, ADAM10 and γ-secretase, as well as ADAM17 and signal peptide peptidase like 3 (SPPL3), we illustrate how substrate identification with novel methods is instrumental in elucidating broad physiological functions of these proteases in the brain and other organs.
Keywords: ADAM10; ADAM17; Alzheimer’s disease; BACE; degradomics; protease; proteomics.