Pyk2 overexpression in postsynaptic neurons blocks amyloid β1-42-induced synaptotoxicity in microfluidic co-cultures

Brain Commun. 2020 Aug 28;2(2):fcaa139. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcaa139. eCollection 2020.


Recent meta-analyses of genome-wide association studies identified a number of genetic risk factors of Alzheimer's disease; however, little is known about the mechanisms by which they contribute to the pathological process. As synapse loss is observed at the earliest stage of Alzheimer's disease, deciphering the impact of Alzheimer's risk genes on synapse formation and maintenance is of great interest. In this article, we report a microfluidic co-culture device that physically isolates synapses from pre- and postsynaptic neurons and chronically exposes them to toxic amyloid β peptides secreted by model cell lines overexpressing wild-type or mutated (V717I) amyloid precursor protein. Co-culture with cells overexpressing mutated amyloid precursor protein exposed the synapses of primary hippocampal neurons to amyloid β1-42 molecules at nanomolar concentrations and induced a significant decrease in synaptic connectivity, as evidenced by distance-based assignment of postsynaptic puncta to presynaptic puncta. Treating the cells with antibodies that target different forms of amyloid β suggested that low molecular weight oligomers are the likely culprit. As proof of concept, we demonstrate that overexpression of protein tyrosine kinase 2 beta-an Alzheimer's disease genetic risk factor involved in synaptic plasticity and shown to decrease in Alzheimer's disease brains at gene expression and protein levels-selectively in postsynaptic neurons is protective against amyloid β1-42-induced synaptotoxicity. In summary, our lab-on-a-chip device provides a physiologically relevant model of Alzheimer's disease-related synaptotoxicity, optimal for assessing the impact of risk genes in pre- and postsynaptic compartments.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; amyloid β; co-culture; microfluidics; synapses.