Behavioral and neural network abnormalities in human APP transgenic mice resemble those of App knock-in mice and are modulated by familial Alzheimer's disease mutations but not by inhibition of BACE1

Mol Neurodegener. 2020 Sep 14;15(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s13024-020-00393-5.


Background: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most frequent and costly neurodegenerative disorder. Although diverse lines of evidence suggest that the amyloid precursor protein (APP) is involved in its causation, the precise mechanisms remain unknown and no treatments are available to prevent or halt the disease. A favorite hypothesis has been that APP contributes to AD pathogenesis through the cerebral accumulation of the amyloid-β peptide (Aβ), which is derived from APP through sequential proteolytic cleavage by BACE1 and γ-secretase. However, inhibitors of these enzymes have failed in clinical trials despite clear evidence for target engagement.

Methods: To further elucidate the roles of APP and its metabolites in AD pathogenesis, we analyzed transgenic mice overexpressing wildtype human APP (hAPP) or hAPP carrying mutations that cause autosomal dominant familial AD (FAD), as well as App knock-in mice that do not overexpress hAPP but have two mouse App alleles with FAD mutations and a humanized Aβ sequence.

Results: Although these lines of mice had marked differences in cortical and hippocampal levels of APP, APP C-terminal fragments, soluble Aβ, Aβ oligomers and age-dependent amyloid deposition, they all developed cognitive deficits as well as non-convulsive epileptiform activity, a type of network dysfunction that also occurs in a substantive proportion of humans with AD. Pharmacological inhibition of BACE1 effectively reduced levels of amyloidogenic APP C-terminal fragments (C99), soluble Aβ, Aβ oligomers, and amyloid deposits in transgenic mice expressing FAD-mutant hAPP, but did not improve their network dysfunction and behavioral abnormalities, even when initiated at early stages before amyloid deposits were detectable.

Conclusions: hAPP transgenic and App knock-in mice develop similar pathophysiological alterations. APP and its metabolites contribute to AD-related functional alterations through complex combinatorial mechanisms that may be difficult to block with BACE inhibitors and, possibly, also with other anti-Aβ treatments.

Keywords: APP; APP-KI; Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid; AppNL-G-F; BACE; Behavior; C-Fos; Calbindin; Epilepsy; Epileptiform; I5; Inhibitor; J20; Knock-in; Learning and memory; Oligomers; SWD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases / metabolism*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Knock-In Techniques
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Nerve Net / pathology


  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases
  • Bace1 protein, mouse