J. Neurochem. (2012) 120 (Suppl. 1), 99–108.
Amyloid peptide (Aβ) is derived from the cleavage of amyloid precursor protein (APP), which also generates the soluble peptide APPβ (sAPPβ). An antagonist and major APP metabolic pathway involves cleavage by alpha secretase, which releases sAPPα. Although soluble Aβ oligomers are neurotoxic, Aβ monomers share similar properties with sAPPα. These include neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects, as well as stimulation of neural-progenitor proliferation. The properties of Aβ monomers and the neurotrophic capacity of sAPPβ to stimulate axonal outgrowth suggest that Aβ production is not deleterious per se. Consequently, therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s disease that are targeted at Aβ-cleaving enzymes should modulate rather than inhibit Aβ generation. These strategies should focus on the factors that induce the conversion of Aβ monomers into toxic soluble oligomers. Another interesting therapeutic approach is to focus on the mechanisms of the different properties of sAPPα. Indeed, increasing sAPPα levels could shift proliferating cells towards tumorigenesis. In contrast to its neuroprotective effects, sAPPα is also able to activate microglia, leading to neurotoxicity. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie the different properties of sAPPα could therefore lead to the development of therapeutic strategies against Alzheimer’s disease, which could be curative as well as preventive.