Rivastigmine (or Exelon) is a cholinesterase inhibitor, currently used as a symptomatic treatment for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) generated from its precursor protein (APP) by β-secretase (or BACE1) and γ-secretase endoproteolysis. Alternative APP cleavage by α-secretase (a family of membrane-bound metalloproteases– Adamalysins) precludes the generation of toxic Aβ and yields a neuroprotective and neurotrophic secreted sAPPα fragment. Several signal transduction pathways, including protein kinase C and MAP kinase, stimulate α-secretase. We present data to suggest that rivastigmine, in addition to anticholinesterase activity, directs APP processing away from BACE1 and towards α-secretases. We treated rat neuronal PC12 cells and primary human brain (PHB) cultures with rivastigmine and the α-secretase inhibitor TAPI and assayed for levels of APP processing products and α-secretases. We subsequently treated 3×Tg (transgenic) mice with rivastigmine and harvested hippocampi to assay for levels of APP processing products. We also assayed postmortem human control, AD, and AD brains from subjects treated with rivastigmine for levels of APP metabolites. Rivastigmine dose-dependently promoted α-secretase activity by upregulating levels of ADAM-9, -10, and -17 α-secretases in PHB cultures. Co-treatment with TAPI eliminated rivastigmine-induced sAPPα elevation. Rivastigmine treatment elevated levels of sAPPα in 3×Tg mice. Consistent with these results, we also found elevated sAPPα in postmortem brain samples from AD patients treated with rivastigmine. Rivastigmine can modify the levels of several shedding proteins and directs APP processing toward the non-amyloidogenic pathway. This novel property of rivastigmine can be therapeutically exploited for disease-modifying intervention that goes beyond symptomatic treatment for AD.

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Published in Translational Psychiatry, v. 10, issue 1, article no. 47.

© The Author(s) 2020

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DKL is supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (US NIH) (R01AG051086, P30AG010133-REC, R21AG056007), and the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center (IADC), and KS by R21AG062378.

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The datasets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

The correction for this article is available for download as an additional file listed at the end of this record.

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