An unresolved debate in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is whether amyloid plaques are pathogenic, causing overt physical disruption of neural circuits, or protective, sequestering soluble forms of amyloid-β (Aβ) that initiate synaptic damage and cognitive decline. Few animal models of AD have been capable of isolating the relative contribution made by soluble and insoluble forms of Aβ to the behavioral symptoms and biochemical consequences of the disease. Here we use a controllable transgenic mouse model expressing a mutant form of amyloid precursor protein (APP) to distinguish the impact of soluble Aβ from that of deposited amyloid on cognitive function and synaptic structure. Rapid inhibition of transgenic APP modulated the production of Aβ without affecting pre-existing amyloid deposits and restored cognitive performance to the level of healthy controls in Morris water maze, radial arm water maze, and fear conditioning. Selective reduction of Aβ with a γ-secretase inhibitor provided similar improvement, suggesting that transgene suppression restored cognition, at least in part by lowering Aβ. Cognitive improvement coincided with reduced levels of synaptotoxic Aβ oligomers, greater synaptic density surrounding amyloid plaques, and increased expression of presynaptic and postsynaptic markers. Together these findings indicate that transient Aβ species underlie much of the cognitive and synaptic deficits observed in this model and demonstrate that significant functional and structural recovery can be attained without removing deposited amyloid.
- Amyloid precursor protein
- Tetracycline transactivator