Alzheimer's Disease - Enzyme Discovery?

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004
Doctor's Responses Archive

Question: I've heard that in Alzheimer's Disease they have made a big discovery of an enzyme. What's it about?

Answer: Scientists have found an enzyme that appears directly involved in the early development of Alzheimer's disease. To be exact, they have identified a protease enzyme called beta- secretase. It acts by trimming off a protein protruding from a brain cell. This small snip is thought to be the first step in the buildup of microscopic balls of debris known as amyloid that are toxic to brain cells. The brain cells (neurons) gradually die and with them slowly go the person's memory and other mental faculties.

The discovery of this protease enzyme (beta-secretase) means that the door now is wide open to the development of drugs (specific protease inhibitors) designed to block this enzyme and thereby hopefully block the progression of this disease.

If you would like to read more about this discovery, you can do so in the journal Science. Here are the references:

  1. Vassar R. et al. Beta-Secretase Cleavage of Alzheimer's Amyloid Precursor Protein by the Transmembrane Aspartic Protease BACE. Science (Oct 22 1999) 286: 735- 740. (The original research report.)
  2. Pennisi E. Enzymes Point Way to Potential Alzheimer's Therapies. Science (Oct 22 1999) 286: 650-651. (The accompanying commentary on the discovery.)