Caspase-Mediated Cleavage of Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein within Degenerating Astrocytes of the Alzheimer's Disease Brain

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Recent studies demonstrate roles for activation of caspases and cleavage of cellular proteins within neurons of the Alzheimer's disease (AD) brain. To determine whether a similar role for caspases also occurs within glial cells in AD, we designed a site-directed caspase-cleavage antibody specific to glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a cytoskeleton protein specifically expressed in astrocytes. In vitro characterization of this antibody using both a cell-free system and a cell model system of apoptosis demonstrated that the antibody (termed GFAP caspase-cleavage product antibody or GFAP-CCP Ab) immunolabeled the predicted caspase-cleavage fragment, but not full-length GFAP, by Western blot analysis. To determine whether caspases cleave GFAP in vivo, tissue sections from control and AD brains were examined by immunohistochemistry using the GFAP-CCP Ab. Two prominent features of staining were evident: immunolabeling of degenerating astrocytes in proximity to blood vessels and staining within plaque-rich regions of the AD brain. Furthermore, co-localization of the GFAP-CCP Ab and an antibody specific to active caspase-3 was demonstrated within damaged astrocytes of the AD brain. These data suggest that the activation of caspases and cleavage of cellular proteins such as GFAP may contribute to astrocyte injury and damage in the AD brain.