Abstract

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is regarded as a high-risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Asparaginyl endopeptidase (AEP), a lysosomal cysteine protease involved in AD pathogenesis, is normally activated under acidic conditions and also in TBI. However, both the molecular mechanism underlying AEP activation-mediated TBI-related AD pathologies, and the role of AEP as an AD therapeutic target, still remain unclear. Here, we report that TBI induces hippocampus dependent cognitive deficit and synaptic dysfunction, accompanied with AEP activation, I2PP2A (inhibitor 2 of PP2A, also called SET) mis-translocation from neuronal nucleus to cytoplasm, an obvious increase in AEP interaction with SET, and tau hyperphosphorylation in hippocampus of rats. Oxygen-glucose deprivation (OGD), mimicking an acidic condition, also leads to AEP activation, SET mis-translocation, PP2A inhibition, tau hyperphosphorylation, and a decrease in synaptic proteins, all of which are abrogated by AEP inhibitor AENK in primary neurons. Interestingly, AENK restores SET back to the nucleus, mitigates tau pathologies, rescuing TBI-induced cognitive deficit in rats. These findings highlight a novel etiopathogenic mechanism of TBI-related AD, which is initiated by AEP activation, accumulating SET in cytoplasm, and favoring tau pathology and cognitive impairments. Lowering AEP activity by AEP inhibitor would be beneficial to AD patients with TBI.