Overactivation of calcineurin induced by amyloid-beta
and prion proteins
Paula Agostinhoa,b,*, Joa ˜o P. Lopesa,
Ze ´lia Veleza, Catarina R. Oliveiraa,b
aInstitute of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra, 3004-504 Coimbra, Portugal
bCenter for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Coimbra, 3004-504 Coimbra, Portugal
Received 27 December 2007; accepted 5 January 2008
Available online 16 January 2008
Amyloid-beta protein (Ab) and the scrapie isoform of prion protein (PrPSs) have a central role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
and prion-related encephalopathies (PRE), respectively. In both disorders, the deposition of these misfolded proteins is accompanied by apoptotic
neuronal loss. However, the pathogenesis and molecular basis of Ab- and PrPSc-neurotoxic effects are not completely understood. The Ca2+/
calmodulin-dependent phosphatase calcineurin (CaN), through the dephosphorylation of the proapoptotic protein BAD, may be the link between
Ca2+homeostasis deregulation and apoptotic neuronal death. In this study we used primary cultures of rat brain cortical neurons in order to
investigate whether Ab and PrP affect CaN activity. We observed that synthetic peptides of Ab (Ab25–35and Ab1–40) and PrP (PrP106–126)
increased CaN activity, but did not affect the levels of this protein phosphatase. Moreover, we found that these peptides reduced the levels of BAD
phosphorylated at serine residue 112, and this effect was prevented by the CaN inhibitor FK506. Since dephosphorylated BAD translocates to
mitochondria, where it triggers cytochrome crelease, we determined the levels of BAD inmitochondrial andcytosolicfractions. The data obtained
showed that Ab- and PrP-treated neurons had higher levels of BAD in mitochondria than control neurons. This increase in mitochondrial BAD
levels was matched by a decrease in cytochrome c. FK506 preventedthe alterations of mitochondrial BAD and cytochrome c levelsinduced by Ab
and PrP peptides. Taken together the data suggest that Ab and PrP increased CaN activity, inducing BAD dephosphorylation and translocation to
mitochondria and,subsequently,cytochrome c release thatmay trigger an apoptotic cascade. Therefore, therapeutic strategiestargeting CaNmight
be valuable for these neurodegenerative disorders.
# 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Neurotoxicity; Amyloid-beta; Prion protein; Calcineurin; BAD
The abnormal accumulation of proteins is a pathological
feature in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and prion-related
encephalopathies (PRE). The key pathogenic event in AD
and PRE is linked to a conformational change of normally
expressed proteins: the amyloid-beta (Ab) and the cellular
prion protein (PrPC). Ab is a 40–42 amino acid peptide that
derives from the proteolytic cleavage of amyloid precursor
protein (APP) mediated by b- and g-secretases (Marks and
Berg, 2008). This peptide self-assembles into toxic oligomers
and fibrils that accumulate in the brain of AD patients, forming
can undergo disease-associated structural modifications, giving
rise to a pathogenic isoform called scrapie prion protein (PrPSc)
that accumulates as amyloid plaques in the brain of patients
suffering from PRE (Barnham et al., 2006; Wisniewski and
Sigurdsson, 2007). Recently, it was proposed that the C-
terminal of a-helices in PrPCrefolds into b-strands, which
adopt a parallel alignment (Cobb et al., 2007). Both Ab and
PrPSchave a high b-sheet content, which renders them
insoluble, resistant to proteolysis and neurotoxic (Soto, 1999;
Wisniewski and Sigurdsson, 2007). The involvement of these
amyloidogenic proteins in disease was validated by the finding
that mutations in genes that codified APP and PrPCresult in
autosomal-dominant AD and PRE (Carter, 2007; Aguzzi and
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–1233
* Corresponding author at: Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, Uni-
versity of Coimbra, 3004-504 Coimbra, Portugal. Tel.: +351 239820190;
fax: +351 239822776.
E-mail address: email@example.com (P. Agostinho).
0197-0186/$ – see front matter # 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Haass, 2003). These neurodegenerative disorders are char-
acterized by memory and cognitive deficits that occur as a
consequence of neuronal dysfunction and death, which are
attributable, in part, to the gradual deregulation of neuronal
Ca2+homeostasis (LaFerla, 2002; Kawahara, 2004; Demuro
et al., 2005). A neuroinflammatory process, characterized by
microglia activation, is also involved in AD and PRE
pathogenesis (Wisniewski and Sigurdsson, 2007). Currently,
the development of anti-Ab immunotherapeutic approaches
that can also modulate microglial activation is a huge challenge
for AD treatment (Morgan, 2006).
Calcineurin (CaN) is a serine/threonine phosphatase
physiologically activated by Ca2+and calmodulin that exists
at high levels in neurons, accounting for 1% of the total protein.
This unique Ca2+-activated protein phosphatase, also named as
phosphatase 2B, links Ca2+to the dephosphorylation of several
targeted molecules, such as proapoptotic factors, transcription
factors and ion channels. Moreover, CaN has been shown to
play a role in learning and memory processes, as well as in
apoptosis of neuronal cells (Mansuy, 2003; Hara and Snyder,
2007). As a consequence of an insult that increases cytosolic
Ca2+concentration, such as Ab or PrP peptides exposure and
aging (Agostinho and Oliveira,2003; Mattson, 2006), the Ca2+-
activated CaN can trigger apoptosis through the depho-
sphorylation of Bcl2-associated death protein (BAD). This
proapoptotic protein exists normally in the cytosol bounded to
the 14-3-3 protein and phosphorylated on serine residues,
mainly serine 122 (S112), S136 and S155 (Springer et al.,
2000). After an insult, BAD is dephosphorylated and
translocates from the cytosol to mitochondria. In the outer
cell membrane of mitochondria, BAD interacts and inhibits the
actions of the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL,
promoting the release of cytochrome c (cyt c) that leads to
the activation of the postmitochondrial caspase apoptotic
cascade (Wang et al., 1999; Springer et al., 2000; Kim et al.,
The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the
synthetic peptides Ab25–35, Ab1-40 and PrP106–126, which
mimic the toxic effects of Ab and PrPSc(Agostinho and
Oliveira, 2003; Ferreiro et al., 2006), change the functional role
of CaN. We have observed that Ab and PrP peptides increased
the activity of this phosphatase in rat brain cortical neurons,
leading to BAD dephosphorylation and translocation to
mitochondria. The data obtained suggest that the neurotoxic
effects triggered by Ab and PrP peptides were partially due to
changes in CaN activity and, subsequent, alterations in
phosphorylation state of BAD.
2. Experimental procedures
Neurobasal medium and B-27 supplement were purchased from GIBCO
(Paisley, UK). Ab25–35, Ab1–40and PrP106–126were from Bachem (Bubendorf,
Switzerland). The mouse anti-calcineurin1 (clone 29) and the mouse anti-BAD
(clone 48) antibodies were obtained from BD Biosciences (Erembodegem,
Belgium), whereas the phosphospecific antibody against BAD phosphorylated
at serine 112 (pS112-BAD) was from Biosource (Nivelles, Belgium). The
monoclonalantibody against the denatured form of cyt c (clone 7H8.2C12) was
acquired from PharMingem (San Diego, CA, USA), whereas the anti-actin
monoclonal antibody (clone AC-40) was from Sigma (St. Louis, MO, USA).
Serine/threonine phosphatase assay kit was obtained from Promega (Madison,
WI, USA). Reagents and apparatus used in Western blot assays were obtained
from Bio-Rad (Hercules, CA, USA), whereas PVDF membranes, alkaline
phosphatase-linked anti-mouse secondary antibody and the enhanced chemi-
fluorescence (ECF) reagent were from Amersham Biosciences (Buckingham-
shire, UK). MitoTracker-green, Alexafluor 594 anti-mouse IgG conjugate and
Antifade kit were obtained from Molecular Probes (Leiden, Netherlands). All
other reagents were from Sigma Chemical Co. (St. Louis, MO, USA).
2.2. Cultures of rat brain cortical neurons
Primary cultures of cortical cells were prepared from 15–16 days embryos
of Wistar rats according to the method previously described by Agostinho and
Oliveira (2003). Cortical cells were cultured in Neurobasal medium added on
with 2 mM L-glutamine, 2% B27 supplement, penicillin (100 U/ml) and
streptomycin (100 mg/ml). The neurons were cultured on poly-L-lysine
(0.1 mg/ml) coated plates at a density of 0.2 ? 106cells/cm2, and maintained
at 37 8C in a humidified atmosphere of 5% CO2/95% air.
2.3. Cells treatments
Cultured cortical neurons were treated with 25 mM Ab25-35, 1 mM Ab1–40
or 25 mM PrP106–126, for 24–48 h. The peptides were added to culture medium
at the 4–5th culturing day. FK506 (1 mM) was added just before the peptides.
2.4. Preparation of cell lysates and fractions
Treated cortical cells were lysed with ice-cold isolation buffer (250 mM
sucrose, 20 mM HEPES, 10 mM KCl, 1.5 mM MgCl2(pH 7.4), 1 mM DTT,
1 mM PMSFand protease inhibitor cocktail). The cell lysates used to measure
the levels of phospho-BAD by Western blot were prepared in the isolation
buffer containing 1 mM sodium orthovanadate and 5 mM sodium pyropho-
three times, and cleared by centrifugation (20,200 ? g for 10 min) before
colleting the supernatant. Mitochondrial and cytosolic fractions were pre-
pared, as described previously in Agostinho and Oliveira (2003). Bio-Rad
protein dye assay reagent was used to determine protein concentration in the
2.5. Calcineurin activity
The activity of CaN was determined using a serine/threonine phosphatase
brief, cell lysates (prepared as described above) were first centrifuged at
100,000 ? g for 1 h (4 8C) to remove contaminating components, such as
ATP and free endogenous phosphate from samples. After spin columns pre-
paration, accordingly with the instructions of the kit, 250 ml of cell lysates were
added on each column. The cell lysates were then centrifuged at 600 ? g for
5 min (4 8C) and the samples collected from the bottom of the reservoir.
The collected samples (5 mg protein) and standards of free phosphate
(0–2000 pmol) were incubated with the phosphopeptide substrate in the pre-
sence of a reaction buffer specific for phosphatase 2B (250 mM imidazole,
1 mM EGTA, 50 mM MgCl2, 5 mM NiCl2, 250 mg/ml calmodulin, 0.1% b-
mercaptoethanol), during 5 min. Then the reaction was stopped by adding
molybdate dye/additive mixture and after 15 min at room temperature, the
absorbance was measured at 600 nm in a plate reader.
2.6. Western blot assay
Samples containing an equal amount of total protein were loaded on 15%
SDS-polyacrylamide gels. To facilitate the further identification of proteins a
pre-stained precision protein standard (Bio-Rad) was used. The proteins of
samples were separated by electrophoresis and transferred electrophoretically
to PVDF membrane (Agostinho and Oliveira, 2003). These membranes were
P. Agostinho et al./Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–1233 1227
blocked using a Tris-buffered solution (150 mM NaCl, 25 mM Tris–HCl, pH
7.6) containing 0.1% Tween-20 (TBS-T) and 5% bovine serum albumin
(BSA) for 1 h at room temperature. Incubation with the primary antibodies
(anti-calcineurin 1:250, anti-actin 1:1000, anti-BAD 1:500, anti-pS112-BAD
1:500, anti-cyt c 1:500 in TBS-T 1% BSA) was performed overnight at 4 8C.
After extensive washing, the membranes were incubated with phosphatase-
linked specific secondary antibodies (1:25000). Bands of immunoreactive
proteins were visualized, after membrane incubation with enhanced chemi-
fluorescence (ECF) reagent for 5 min, on a Storm 860 Gel. Densities of blot
bands were calculated using the Blot Imaging System (Amersham Pharmacia
Cultured cortical neurons were treated with the peptides in the absence or
presence of FK506 and then were processed as described previously by
Agostinho and Oliveira (2003). In brief, the cells were incubated with Mito-
Tracker green for 45 min at 37 8C, and after being washed with PBS to remove
15 min.Then,the cellswere incubatedwith20 mMglycine (inPBS) for15 min
andsubsequentlypermeabilizedwith0.1%saponin(in PBS)for30 minatroom
temperature. Afterwards the cells were incubated with: (i) anti-BAD antibody
(1:500) for 2 h and (ii) Alexa Fluor goat anti-mouse IgG antibody (1:100).
Finally, the cells were mounted on microscope glass, using Prolong Antifade
kit, and examined by confocal microscopy (Bio-Rad MRC 600).
In a previous study we have demonstrated that the inhibitor
of CaN, FK506, prevents cyt c release and the subsequent
caspase-3 dependent apoptotic cell death induced by Ab and
PrP synthetic peptides (Agostinho and Oliveira, 2003),
suggesting that CaN is involved in neuronal death caused by
these peptides. Therefore, in the present study we investigated
the effect of Ab and PrP peptides in CaN activity and levels, as
well as in the phosphorylation state of the CaN target, BAD
(Wang et al., 1999). The concentrations and incubation time
period used for Ab and PrP synthetic peptides treatments were
chosen based on previous studies made at our lab (Agostinho
and Oliveira, 2003; Ferreiro et al., 2006).
The activity of CaN was evaluated in cortical neurons treated
with Ab25–35(25 mM), Ab1–40(1 mM) or PrP106–126(25 mM)
peptides by measuring the formation of free phosphate (PO4),
using a specific kit assay (see material and methods section).
Fig. 1 shows that the amount of PO4formed in cells treated with
Ab25–35 (791.7 ? 27.8 pmol/mg protein), Ab1–40 (875.0 ?
97.2 pmol/mg protein) or PrP106–126 (847.2 ? 55.6 pmol/mg
protein) peptides, for 24 h, was significantly higher than in
control (untreated) cells (500.0 ? 59.4 pmol/mg protein), which
indicates that CaN is upregulated in cells treated with the
peptides. This augment in CaN activity was also observed in
neurons treated with the peptides for 48 h (data not shown). The
PrP106–126(PrPScram), did not affect CaN activity comparatively
tocontrolcells(Fig.1).TheCaNinhibitor FK506(Snyder etal.,
1998) almost completely prevented PO4 formation in cells
untreated or treated with the peptides (Fig. 1B), what reinforces
that wewere determining the activity of this phosphatase. These
data suggest that CaN activity was significantly increased by
Ab25–35, Ab1–40or PrP106–126peptides.
Fig. 1. Effectofamyloid-b(Ab)andprion(PrP)peptidesoncalcineurinactivity.
Cortical neurons were incubated or not (control) with Ab25–35(25 mM), Ab1–40
(1 mM) or PrP106–126(25 mM) in the presence or absence of FK506 (1 mM) for
24 h. Neurons treated with the reverse Ab peptides (Ab35–25and Ab40–1) or the
scrambledPrP106–126(PrPScram) werealso usedascontrols.Afterpeptideincuba-
formed in each experimental condition. The levels of free PO4were determined,
usinga serine/threonine phosphatase assay system (Promega Kit), and expressed
aspmolpermgofprotein.Thedataaremeans ? S.E.M.offourtosixindependent
experiments. *P < 0.05 compared with control cells in the absence of FK506,
+++P < 0.001comparedwiththesameexperimentalconditionsintheabsenceof
Fig. 2. Effect of Ab and PrP peptides on calcineurin levels. The cultured
cortical neurons were treated with Ab25–35 (25 mM), Ab1–40 (1 mM) and
PrP106–126(25 mM) for 24 h. Calcineurin (61 kDa) levels were determined
by Western blotting experiments. The blots were re-probed with an antibody
against actin (42 kDa) to estimate the total amount of protein loaded in each
lane of the gel. Immunoreactive bands were visualized by scanning on a Storm
860. Graphic bars represent the levels of CaN determined using Image Quant
analyser. The data were expressed as arbitrary units (a.u.), relatively to control
(untreated) cells, and represent the means ? S.E.M. of four independent
P. Agostinho et al./Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–1233 1228
In order to clarify whether the increase in CaN activity,
induced by Ab and PrP peptides, reflects an increase in
phosphatase levels, we further determined the levels of this
protein by Western blot. The data showed that CaN levels in
control cells were similar to those found in cells treated with
Ab25–35, Ab1–40or PrP106–126(Fig. 2), indicating that Ab and
PrP peptides did not affect the levels of this protein
Since BAD, which is normally phosphorylated on serine
residues, is one of the substrates of CaN (Springer et al., 2000)
we determined the phosphorylation state of this proapoptotic
protein in neurons untreated or treated with Ab and PrP
peptides, using a phospho specific antibody that labels BAD
PrP106–126 peptides significantly (p < 0.05) decreased the
levels of pS112-BAD by about 30% as compared with control
cells (Fig. 3). FK506 partially prevented the decrease in pS112-
BAD levels induced by Ab and PrP peptides. To ensure that
changes in the relative levels of phosho-BAD were not due to
differences in the amount of total BAD, we also determined the
levels of this protein using an antibody that recognizes BAD
independently of its phosphorylation state. The data obtained
show that neither Ab nor PrP peptides affected the total BAD
levels in neuronal cell lysates (Fig. 3B).
Dephosphorylated BAD translocates to mitochondria and
promotes cytochrome c (cyt c) release from this organelle
(Wang et al., 1999; Kim et al., 2006). Therefore, to provide
additional evidence that Ab and PrP peptides increase CaN and
subsequently BAD dephosphorylation, we determined the
levels of BAD in the mitochondrial fractions of neurons
treated with Ab and PrP peptides. Since the results obtained
with Ab1–40in CaN activity and cellular BAD levels were
not(control)withAb25–35(25 mM),Ab1–40(1 mM)orPrP106–126(25 mM)inthepresenceorabsenceofFK506(1 mM).After24 hincubation,theneuronswerelysed
and the protein levels were determined by Western blotting, using a monoclonal antibody against BAD phosphorylated at serine 112 (23 kDa). An antibody against
actin was used to estimate the total amount of protein loaded in each lane of the gel. Graphic bars represent pS122-BAD levels, expressed as arbitrary units relatively
to control cells, and are the means ? S.E.M. of four to six independent experiments. (B) The levels of total BAD in neuronal lysates were also determined, using an
antibody that recognizes this protein independently of its phosphorylation state (23 kDa). The figure shows a representative blot for BAD, out of four independent
experiments. *P < 0.05 compared with control cells in the absence of FK506.
P. Agostinho et al./Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–1233 1229
similar (qualitatively) to those obtained with Ab25–35, in the
following studies we used the smaller peptide. BAD levels in
the mitochondria of neurons treated with Ab25–35 (1.24 ?
0.11 a.u.) or PrP106–126(1.27 ? 0.15 a.u.) were significantly
(p < 0.05) higher than in control cells (0.98 ? 0.06 a.u.).
FK506 prevented the increase of mitochondrial BAD levels
induced by the peptides (Fig. 4), decreasing the levels of this
proapoptotic protein to values slightly lower than those
observed in untreated cells. These results indicate that CaN
mediates BAD translocation to mitochondria in neurons treated
with Ab or PrP peptides. In control cells it was also observed a
slight effect of FK506 in mitochondrial BAD levels, indicating
that, even in untreated neurons, CaN was active and mediated
BAD translocation to these organelles. Additionally, it was
and PrP-treated neurons the BAD is localized in the
mitochondria. As can be seen in Fig. 5 an intense co-
localization (yellow label) of anti-BAD and MitoTracker green
(mitochondria probe) fluorescence was observed in neurons
treatedwiththe peptides as comparedwith control cells, as well
as with cells treated with Ab or PrP in the presence of FK506
(Fig. 5 C1). Thus, these data support that in our experimental
conditions Ab and PrP peptides caused BAD translocation to
mitochondria, and this can be prevented by calcineurin
blockade. Fig. 6 shows that the increase of BAD levels in
mitochondria of cells treated with Ab25–35 and PrP106–126
peptides (Fig. 4A) was associated with a decrease in the
cytosoliclevels ofthis proapoptotic protein (Fig. 4B), aswell as
with a reduction in mitochondrial cyt c levels.
Altogether the data show that Ab and PrP peptides induce
CaN overactivation and subsequent BAD dephosphorylation
and translocation to mitochondria, where this proapoptotic
protein triggers cyt c release. Therefore, the augment in CaN
The involvement of CaN in the neurodegenerative process
and memory impairment in AD and PRE remains a
controversial issue (Wang et al., 1999; Norris et al., 2005;
Biasini etal., 2006;Dineleyetal., 2007).Inaprevious studywe
demonstrated that Ab and PrP peptides trigger a caspase-3-
dependent apoptotic neuronal death pathway, involving CaN
and cyt c release from mitochondria (Agostinho and Oliveira,
2003). However, in that study, we have not addressed whether
these peptides affect the activity and/or expression levelsof this
Ca2+/calmodulin dependent phosphatase 2B.
In the present study we observed that CaN activity was
significantly increased in cortical neurons treated with Ab or
PrP peptides for 24 h (Fig. 1) and 48 h (data not shown). This
augment in CaN activity was not correlated with alterations in
the levels of this phosphatase (Fig. 2), but was probably due to
an increase in intracellular Ca2+concentration triggered by Ab
and PrP peptides. In fact, our group has previously shown that
Ab and PrP synthetic peptides cause an early increase of
intracellular Ca2+concentration ([Ca2+]i) in cortical neurons,
which was in part due to Ca2+release from endoplasmic
reticulum (Agostinho and Oliveira, 2003; Ferreiro et al., 2006).
Although CaN can modulate the activity of voltage-sensitive
Ca2+channels and endoplasmic reticulum-associated Ca2+
channels, ryanodine and inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate receptors
(Burley and Sihra, 2000; Bultynck et al., 2003), in our previous
study we have shown that the augment of [Ca2+]icaused by Ab
and PrP peptides was not affected by the calcineurin inhibitor,
FK506 (Agostinho and Oliveira, 2003). The alterations in Ca2+
Fig. 4. Levels of total BAD (phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated) in
mitochondria (A) and cytosol (B) of neurons exposed to Ab or PrP. Cultured
cortical neurons were treated or not (control) with Ab25–35(25 mM) or PrP106–
126(25 mM) in the presence or absence of FK506 (1 mM), for 24 h. Mitochon-
drial and cytosolic fractions were obtained after neuronal treatment with
peptides and/or FK506. The levels of BAD in these cellular fractions were
determined using an antibody that recognizes this propaptotic protein inde-
pendently of its phosphorylation state (23 kDa). Graphic bars represent BAD
levels in mitochondria (A) and in cytosol (B), expressed as arbitrary units,
comparing to control cells. The data are means ? S.E.M. of four independent
experiments. *P < 0.05 compared with control cells in the absence of FK506,
+P < 0.05 compared with the same experimental conditions in the absence of
P. Agostinho et al./Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–1233 1230
Fig. 5. Localization of BAD in neurons treated with Ab and PrP peptides in the absence and presence of FK506. Representative images obtained by confocal
microscopy are shown. Cultured cortical neurons were treated or not (control) with Ab25–35(25 mM) or PrP106–126(25 mM) in the presence or absence of FK506
(1 mM),for24 h.Then,thecellswereco-labelledwithanti-BADantibody(A,red)andMitoTrackergreen(B,green).MergedimagesfromAandBgivesinformation
about the co-location of BAD in relation to mitochondria (C and C1). Thus, overlay of fluorescence (yellow-orangelabel) indicates that BAD is within mitochondria.
(C1) Merged images obtained, as described above, in neurons treated or not (control) with the peptides in the presence of FK506. Similar patterns of labelling were
obtained in four independent experiments.
P. Agostinho et al./Neurochemistry International 52 (2008) 1226–12331231
homeostasis caused by Ab and PrP peptides in cortical neurons
were shown to precede reactive oxygen species production
(Ferreiro et al., 2006). Several studies have reported that CaN
activity is regulated by Ca2+, as well as by oxidative stress
conditions (Mansuy, 2003; Celsi et al., 2007), which are two
events that are upregulated in AD and PRE (Hur et al., 2002;
LaFerla, 2002). However, the manner by which Ab and PrP
peptides affect CaN remains controversial. A recent study
showed that CaN activity was augmented in cortex, hippo-
campus and cerebellum of transgenic AD animal models, and
the accumulation of Abwas coincident with CaN upregulation
(Dineley et al., 2007). Moreover, it was demonstrated that Ab
peptides can induce CaN activation, via Ca2+influx through a7
nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, in cortical neurons (Snyder
be upregulated due to its proteolytic cleavage through calpain I
activation (Liu et al., 2005). On the other hand, it was reported
that Ab causes downregulation of CaN in a neuronal precursor
cell line through the induction of oxidative stress (Celsi et al.,
2007). The discrepancies between this study and others
(including our present study) show that Ab peptides upregulate
CaN are probably related with differential cell susceptibility
and/or peptide exposure (concentration and time period of
incubation). Searching the literature, information about the
involvement of CaN in PRE falls short. A recent study shows
that the activity of this phosphatase was reduced in the
cerebellum of a transgenic mouse model of inherited prion
disease, but not in hippocampus and cerebral cortex (Biasini
et al., 2006).
Two widely used inhibitors of CaN are FK506 and
cyclosporin A (Snyder et al., 1998; Pong and Zaleska,
2003). In this study we used FK506 because it can cross the
blood-brain barrier, unlike cyclosporin A, which is an
advantage when the issue is about brain disorders. Our data
show that FK506 reduced CaN activity in neurons treated with
Ab and PrP peptides (Fig. 1). Accordingly it was reported that
FK506 reduces the activity of this phosphatase in several brain
regions of an AD mice model, improving the cognitive deficits
observed in these animals (Dineley et al., 2007).
In order to get more evidence that Ab and PrP peptides
its downstream target, BAD. After being dephosphorylated,
BAD translocates to mitochondria and promotes the release of
cyt c, leading to the activation of an apoptotic caspase cascade
(Springer et al., 2000; Kim et al., 2006). Studies linking CaN-
mediated BAD dephosphorylation to neurodegeneration trig-
gered by Ab and PrP peptides are lacking. Our data show that
cortical neurons treated with Ab or PrP synthetic peptides
of BAD in mitochondria than untreated neurons (Figs. 4 and 5),
and these effects were prevented by the CaN inhibitor, FK506.
Moreover,it was shownthatinneurons treated withthepeptides
the increase of mitochondrial BAD levels was parallel to the
decrease of cyt c levels (Fig. 6), indicating that BAD
translocation to mitochondria triggers cyt c release that can
activate apoptotic neuronal death pathways. These data are in
cyt c release from mitochondria, caspase-3 activation and the
subsequent apoptotic neuronal death triggered by Ab and PrP
peptides (Agostinho and Oliveira, 2003). Furthermore, it was
also demonstrated that CaN activation and BAD dephosphor-
ylation are upstream in premitochondrial signaling events
leading to caspase-3 activation in a human teratocarcinoma cell
line treated with Ab peptides (Cardoso and Oliveira, 2005).
Taken together, our data prove that Ab and PrP peptides
induce CaN overactivation and, as a consequence, the
proapoptotic protein BAD is dephosphorylated and translo-
cated to mitochondria, triggering cyt c release. Cyt c in the
cytosol may be responsible for the activation of neuronal
apoptotic pathways. Therefore, we can conclude that altered
CaN activity is one of the processes that links Ca2+
dyshomeostasis to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s and
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Fig. 6. The increase of BAD levels in mitochondria was associated with a
decrease in cytochrome c (cyt c) levels. Mitochondrial fractions of neurons
treated or not with Ab25–35(25 mM) or PrP106–126(25 mM) in the presence or
absence of FK506 (1 mM) for 24 h were analyzed by Western blot, using an
antibody that recognized total BAD (phospho-independent state) and an anti-
body thatrecognizedthe denaturatedform of cyt c (15 kDa).Thefigure showsa
representative Western blot for BAD and cyt c, out of 3 independent experi-
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