Development of a beta-Secretase Activated Prochelator and FRET Probe to Mediate Copper Toxicity in Alzheimer's Disease

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Folk, Drew Steven


Franz, Katherine J

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Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects over 5 million people in the United States alone. This number is predicted to triple to by the year 2050 due to both increasing life expectancies and the absence of disease-attenuating drugs. The etiology of AD remains unclear, and although there are multiple theories implicating everything from oxidative stress to protein misfolding, misregulated metal ions appear as a common thread in disease pathology.

Chelation therapy has shown some effectiveness in clinical trials, but to date, there are no FDA-approved metal chelators for the treatment of AD. One of the biggest problems with general chelators is their inability to differentiate between the metal ions involved in disease progression verses those involved in normal metabolic function. To address this problem, we have developed a prochelator approach whereby the prochelator (SWH) does not bind metals with significant biological affinity. However, once activated to the chelator (CP) via enzymatic hydrolysis, the molecule is able to bind copper and reduce its toxicity both in vitro and in a cellular model of Alzheimer's Disease.

Central to this strategy is the site-specificity provided by enzymatic activation of the prochelator. In our system, SWH to CP conversion is mediated by beta-secretase, an enzyme involved in A-beta generation. However, in order to render SWH capable of hydrolysis in cells, we modified the prochelator to contain a dihydrocholesterol membrane anchor attached via a polyethylene glycol linker. From this construct, we created beta-MAP, which is an SWH-based FRET probe to demonstrate beta-secretase-mediated conversion of SWH to CP. beta-MAP was also used to confirm the efficacy of a known beta-secretase inhibitor without the need to for mutated cells lines or expensive antibodies. beta;-MAP and the associated microscopy method represent a significant advancement to the currently available ELISA assays for beta-secretase activity.

While activation of the prochelator by an enzyme in cells is encouraging, non-specific hydrolysis of the peptide prevents significant accumulation of the chelator on the cell membrane. Furthermore, attachment of the polyethylene glycol and sterol units induce cell toxicity not seen with the native CP peptide. These drawbacks prevent the current prochelator from effectively protecting cells from AD conditions. Structural modifications to overcome these problems, including implementation of a new peptide sequence are planned for future experiments.






Folk, Drew Steven (2012). Development of a beta-Secretase Activated Prochelator and FRET Probe to Mediate Copper Toxicity in Alzheimer's Disease. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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