Document Type


Publication Date



BACKGROUND: Epidemiologic studies strongly suggest that the pathophysiology of late-onset Alzheimer disease (AD) versus early-onset AD has environmental rather than genetic causes, thus revealing potentially novel therapeutic targets to limit disease progression. Several studies supporting the "pathogen hypothesis" of AD demonstrate a strong association between pathogens and the production of β-amyloid, the pathologic hallmark of AD. Although the mechanism of pathogen-induced neurodegeneration of AD remains unclear, astrocytes, a key player of the CNS innate immune response and producer/metabolizer of β-amyloid, have been implicated. We hypothesized that Chlamydia pneumoniae infection of human astrocytes alters the expression of the amyloid precursor protein (APP)-processing secretases, ADAM10, BACE1, and PSEN1, to promote β-amyloid formation. Utilizing immunofluorescent microscopy, molecular, and biochemical approaches, these studies explore the role of an intracellular respiratory pathogen, Chlamydia pneumoniae, as an environmental trigger for AD pathology. Human astrocytoma cells in vitro were infected with Chlamydia pneumoniae over the course of 6-72 h. The gene and protein expression, as well as the enzymatic activity of non-amyloidogenic (ADAM10), and pro-amyloidogenic (BACE1 and PSEN1) secretases were qualitatively and quantitatively assessed. In addition, the formation of toxic amyloid products as an outcome of pro-amyloidogenic APP processing was evaluated through various modalities.

RESULTS: Chlamydia pneumoniae infection of human astrocytoma cells promoted the transcriptional upregulation of numerous genes implicated in host neuroinflammation, lipid homeostasis, microtubule function, and APP processing. Relative to that of uninfected astrocytes, BACE1 and PSEN1 protein levels were enhanced by nearly twofold at 48-72 h post-Chlamydia pneumoniae infection. The processing of APP in Chlamydia pneumoniae-infected astrocytes favors the pro-amyloidogenic pathway, as demonstrated by an increase in enzymatic activity of BACE1, while that of ADAM10 was decreased. Fluorescence intensity of β-amyloid and ELISA-quantified levels of soluble-APP by products revealed temporally similar increases, confirming a BACE1/PSEN1-mediated processing of APP.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that Chlamydia pneumoniae infection of human astrocytes promotes the pro-amyloidogenic pathway of APP processing through the upregulation of expression and activity of β-secretase, upregulated expression of γ-secretase, and decreased activity of α-secretase. These effects of astrocyte infection provide evidence for a direct link between Chlamydia pneumoniae and AD pathology.

Publication Title

BMC Neuroscience





PubMed ID



This article was published in BMC Neuroscience, Volume 20, Issue 1.

The published version is available at

Copyright © 2019 The Authors. CC BY 4.0

Included in

Neurology Commons