Selective lowering of Aβ42 levels (the 42-residue isoform of the amyloid-β peptide) with small-molecule γ-secretase modulators (GSMs), such as some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, is a promising therapeutic approach for Alzheimer's disease. To identify the target of these agents we developed biotinylated photoactivatable GSMs. GSM photoprobes did not label the core proteins of the γ-secretase complex, but instead labelled the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP), APP carboxy-terminal fragments and amyloid-β peptide in human neuroglioma H4 cells. Substrate labelling was competed by other GSMs, and labelling of an APP γ-secretase substrate was more efficient than a Notch substrate. GSM interaction was localized to residues 28-36 of amyloid-β, a region critical for aggregation. We also demonstrate that compounds known to interact with this region of amyloid-β act as GSMs, and some GSMs alter the production of cell-derived amyloid-β oligomers. Furthermore, mutation of the GSM binding site in the APP alters the sensitivity of the substrate to GSMs. These findings indicate that substrate targeting by GSMs mechanistically links two therapeutic actions: alteration in Aβ42 production and inhibition of amyloid-β aggregation, which may synergistically reduce amyloid-β deposition in Alzheimer's disease. These data also demonstrate the existence and feasibility of 'substrate targeting' by small-molecule effectors of proteolytic enzymes, which if generally applicable may significantly broaden the current notion of 'druggable' targets.
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