The contribution of activated astrocytes to Aβ production: Implications for Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis

Jie Zhao, Tracy O'Connor, Robert Vassar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


Background: β-Amyloid (Aβ) plays a central role in Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathogenesis. Neurons are major sources of Aβ in the brain. However, astrocytes outnumber neurons by at least five-fold. Thus, even a small level of astrocytic Aβ production could make a significant contribution to Aβ burden in AD. Moreover, activated astrocytes may increase Aβ generation. β-Site APP cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE1) cleavage of amyloid precursor protein (APP) initiates Aβ production. Here, we explored whether pro-inflammatory cytokines or Aβ42 would increase astrocytic levels of BACE1, APP, and β-secretase processing, implying a feed-forward mechanism of astrocytic Aβ production.Methods: Mouse primary astrocytes were treated with combinations of LPS, TNF-α, IFN-γ, and IL-1β and analyzed by immunoblot and ELISA for endogenous BACE1, APP, and secreted Aβ40 levels. Inhibition of JAK and iNOS signaling in TNF-α+IFN-γ-stimulated astrocytes was also analyzed. In addition, C57BL/6J or Tg2576 mouse astrocytes were treated with oligomeric or fibrillar Aβ42 and analyzed by immunoblot for levels of BACE1, APP, and APPsβsw. Astrocytic BACE1 and APP mRNA levels were measured by TaqMan RT-PCR.Results: TNF-α+IFN-γ stimulation significantly increased levels of astrocytic BACE1, APP, and secreted Aβ40. BACE1 and APP elevations were post-transcriptional at early time-points, but became transcriptional with longer TNF-α+IFN-γ treatment. Despite a ~4-fold increase in astrocytic BACE1 protein level following TNF-α+IFN-γ stimulation, BACE1 mRNA level was significantly decreased suggesting a post-transcriptional mechanism. Inhibition of iNOS and JAK did not reduce TNF-α+IFN-γ-stimulated elevation of astrocytic BACE1, APP, and Aβ40, except that JAK inhibition blocked the APP increase. Finally, oligomeric and fibrillar Aβ42 dramatically increased levels of astrocytic BACE1, APP, and APPsβsw through transcriptional mechanisms, at least in part.Conclusions: Cytokines including TNF-α+IFN-γ increase levels of endogenous BACE1, APP, and Aβ and stimulate amyloidogenic APP processing in astrocytes. Oligomeric and fibrillar Aβ42 also increase levels of astrocytic BACE1, APP, and β-secretase processing. Together, our results suggest a cytokine- and Aβ42-driven feed-forward mechanism that promotes astrocytic Aβ production. Given that astrocytes greatly outnumber neurons, activated astrocytes may represent significant sources of Aβ during neuroinflammation in AD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number150
JournalJournal of neuroinflammation
StatePublished - Nov 2 2011


  • App
  • Astrocyte
  • Bace1
  • Cytokine
  • Ifn-γ
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Oligomer
  • Tnf-α
  • β-secretase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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