The finding that intracellular expression of the beta-amyloid protein (Abeta) under a neuron-specific promoter led progressively to degeneration and death of neurons in the brains of transgenic mice provides a unique opportunity to utilize this animal model to both understand the mechanism that underlies neuronal cell death and define the complexity of events which may ensue. We observed a correlation between Abeta accumulation in selective neurons and activation of p53, a protein that has been implicated in the induction of apoptosis. Histological and immunohistochemical evaluations of adjacent brain sections suggest that expression of p53 is accompanied by nuclear DNA fragmentation. In certain regions with marked neuronal cell death, extracellular deposition of A(beta) became evident, together with the local activation of astrocytes. Interestingly, the neuritic structures underlying the Abeta deposits showed altered synaptophysin immunoreactivity and morphologic evidence for damage. This transgenic mouse model suggests that intracellular generation of the Abeta protein not only leads to the death of the neuron but may also functionally impair neighboring neurons as well. It further offers a mechanism whereby neuritic plaques may be derived.
F M LaFerla, C K Hall, L Ngo, G Jay