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Caspases have critical roles in Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis. Here we show that caspase-2 is required for the cognitive decline seen in human amyloid precursor protein transgenic mice (J20). The age-related changes in behaviour and dendritic spine density observed in these mice are absent when they lack caspase-2, in spite of similar levels of amyloid beta (Aβ) deposition and inflammation. A similar degree of protection is observed in cultured hippocampal neurons lacking caspase-2, which are immune to the synaptotoxic effects of Aβ. Our studies suggest that caspase-2 is a critical mediator in the activation of the RhoA/ROCK-II signalling pathway, leading to the collapse of dendritic spines. We propose that this is controlled by an inactive caspase-2/RhoA/ROCK-II complex localized in dendrites, which dissociates in the presence of Aβ, allowing for their activation and entry in the spine. These findings directly implicate caspase-2 as key driver of synaptic dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease and offer novel therapeutic targets.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor, Animals, Astrocytes, Behavior, Animal, Blotting, Western, Caspase 2, Cells, Cultured, Dendritic Spines, Down-Regulation, Enzyme Activation, Hippocampus, Humans, Immunoprecipitation, Memory Disorders, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Plaque, Amyloid, Protein Transport, Rats, Synapses, rho-Associated Kinases, rhoA GTP-Binding Protein