Effect of Aβ Oligomers on Neuronal APP Triggers a Vicious Cycle Leading to the Propagation of Synaptic Plasticity Alterations to Healthy Neurons

J Neurosci. 2020 Jul 1;40(27):5161-5176. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2501-19.2020. Epub 2020 May 22.


Alterations of excitatory synaptic function are the strongest correlate to the pathologic disturbance of cognitive ability observed in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD). This pathologic feature is driven by amyloid-β oligomers (Aβos) and propagates from neuron to neuron. Here, we investigated the mechanism by which Aβos affect the function of synapses and how these alterations propagate to surrounding healthy neurons. We used complementary techniques ranging from electrophysiological recordings and molecular biology to confocal microscopy in primary cortical cultures, and from acute hippocampal and cortical slices from male wild-type and amyloid precursor protein (APP) knock-out (KO) mice to assess the effects of Aβos on glutamatergic transmission, synaptic plasticity, and dendritic spine structure. We showed that extracellular application of Aβos reduced glutamatergic synaptic transmission and long-term potentiation. These alterations were not observed in APP KO neurons, suggesting that APP expression is required. We demonstrated that Aβos/APP interaction increases the amyloidogenic processing of APP leading to intracellular accumulation of newly produced Aβos. Intracellular Aβos participate in synaptic dysfunctions as shown by pharmacological inhibition of APP processing or by intraneuronal infusion of an antibody raised against Aβos. Furthermore, we provide evidence that following APP processing, extracellular release of Aβos mediates the propagation of the synaptic pathology characterized by a decreased spine density of neighboring healthy neurons in an APP-dependent manner. Together, our data unveil a complementary role for Aβos in AD, while intracellular Aβos alter synaptic function, extracellular Aβos promote a vicious cycle that propagates synaptic pathology from diseased to healthy neurons.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Here we provide the proof that a vicious cycle between extracellular and intracellular pools of Aβ oligomers (Aβos) is required for the spreading of Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology. We showed that extracellular Aβos propagate excitatory synaptic alterations by promoting amyloid precursor protein (APP) processing. Our results also suggest that subsequent to APP cleavage two pools of Aβos are produced. One pool accumulates inside the cytosol, inducing the loss of synaptic plasticity potential. The other pool is released into the extracellular space and contributes to the propagation of the pathology from diseased to healthy neurons. Pharmacological strategies targeting the proteolytic cleavage of APP disrupt the relationship between extracellular and intracellular Aβ, providing a therapeutic approach for the disease.

Keywords: APP KO mice; APP processing; Alzheimer's disease; NMDA-dependent synaptic transmission; synaptic plasticity; β- and γ-secretase inhibition.