Background Three amino acid differences between rodent and human APP affect medically important features including β-secretase cleavage of APP and aggregation of the Aβ peptide(1–3). Most rodent models for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are therefore based on the human APP sequence expressed from artificial mini-genes randomly inserted in the rodent genome. While these models mimic rather well biochemical aspects of the disease such as Aβ-aggregation, they are also prone to overexpression artifacts and to complex phenotypical alterations due to genes affected in or close to the insertion sites of the mini-genes(4,5). Knock-in strategies introducing clinical mutants in a humanized endogenous rodent APP sequence(6) represent useful improvements, but need to be compared with appropriate humanized wild type (WT) mice.
Methods Computational modelling of the human β-CTF bound to BACE1 was used to study the differential processing of rodent and human APP. We humanized the three pivotal residues G676R, F681Y and R684H (labeled according to the human APP770 isoform) in the mouse as well as in the rat by a CRISPR-Cas9 approach. These new models, termed mouse and rat App hu/hu , express APP from the endogenous promotor. We also introduced the early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) mutation M139T into the endogenous Rat Psen 1 gene.
Results We show that the three amino acid substitutions in the rodent sequence lower the affinity of APP substrate for BACE1 cleavage. The effect on β-secretase processing was confirmed as both humanized rodent models produce three times more (human) Aβ compared to their WT rodent original strain. These models represent suitable controls or starting points for studying the effect of transgenes or knock-in mutations on APP processing(6). We introduced the early-onset familial Alzheimer disease (FAD) mutation M139T into the endogenous Rat Psen 1 gene and provide an initial characterization of Aβ processing in this novel rat AD model.
Conclusion The different humanized APP models (rat and mouse) expressing human Aβ and PSEN1 M139T are valuable controls to study APP processing in vivo and allow to implement the use of human Aβ Elisa which is more sensitive than their rodent counterpart. These animals will be made available to the research community.