Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by the brain accumulation of Aβ peptides and by the presence of neurofibrillary tangles. Aβ is believed to play an important role in AD and it has been shown that certain flavonoids can affect Aβ production. Recently, it was suggested that the Aβ lowering properties of flavonoids are mediated by a direct inhibition the β-secretase (BACE-1) activity, the rate limiting enzyme responsible for the production of Aβ peptides. Westernblots and ELISAs were employed to monitor the impact of flavonoids on amyloid precursor protein processing and Aβ production. A cell free chemoluminescent assay using human recombinant BACE-1 was used to assess the effect of flavonoids on BACE-1 activity. The effect of flavonoids on NFκB activation was determined by using a stable NFκB luciferase reporter cell line. Molecular docking simulations were performed to predict the binding of flavonoids to the BACE-1 catalytic site. Real time quantitative PCR was used to determine the effect of flavonoids on BACE-1 transcription. We show in a cell free assay that flavonoids are only weak inhibitors of BACE-1 activity. Docking simulation studies with different BACE-1 structures also suggest that flavonoids are poor BACE-1 inhibitors as they appear to adopt various docking poses in the active site pocket and have weak docking scores that differ as a function of the BACE-1 structures studied. Moreover, a weak correlation was observed between the effect of flavonoids on Aβ production in vitro and their ability to lower BACE-1 activity suggesting that the Aβ lowering properties of flavonoids in whole cells are not mediated via direct inhibition of BACE-1 activity. We found however a strong correlation between the inhibition of NFκB activation by flavonoids and their Aβ lowering properties suggesting that flavonoids inhibit Aβ production in whole cells via NFκB related mechanisms. As NFκB has been shown to regulate BACE-1 expression, we show that NFκB lowering flavonoids inhibit BACE-1 transcription in human neuronal SH-SY5Y cells. Altogether, our data suggest that flavonoids inhibit Aβ and sAPPβ production by regulating BACE-1 expression and not by directly inhibiting BACE-1 activity.
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