• Alzheimer's disease;
  • β-amyloid;
  • intramembrane-cleaving aspartyl proteases;
  • presenilin;
  • γ-secretase;
  • signal peptide peptidase


The Alzheimer's disease-associated β-amyloid peptide is produced through cleavage of amyloid precursor protein by β-secretase and γ-secretase. γ-Secretase is a complex containing presenilin (PS) as the catalytic component and three essential cofactors: Nicastrin, anterior pharynx defective (APH-1) and presenilin enhancer-2 (PEN-2). PS and signal peptide peptidase (SPP) define a novel family of aspartyl proteases that cleave substrates within the transmembrane domain presumptively using two membrane-embedded aspartic acid residues for catalysis. Apart from the two aspartate-containing active site motifs, the only other region that is conserved between PS and SPP is a PAL sequence at the C-terminus. Although it has been well documented that this motif is essential for γ-secretase activity, the mechanism underlying such a critical role is not understood. Here we show that mutations in this motif affect the conformation of the active site of γ-secretase resulting in a complete loss of PS binding to a γ-secretase transition state analog inhibitor, Merck C. Analogous mutations in SPP significantly inhibit its enzymatic activity. Furthermore, these mutations also abolish SPP binding to Merck C, indicating that SPP and γ-secretase share a similar active site conformation, which is dependent on the PAL motif. Exploring the amino acid requirements within this motif reveals a very small side chain requirement, which is conserved during evolution. Together, these observations strongly support the hypothesis that the PAL motif contributes to the active site conformation of γ-secretase and of SPP.