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Dosage of amyloid precursor protein affects axonal contact guidance in Down syndrome


Amyloid precursor protein (APP), encoded on Hsa21, functions as a cell adhesion molecule (CAM) in axonal growth cones (GCs) of the developing brain. We show here that axonal GCs of human fetal Down syndrome (DS) neurons (and of a DS mouse model) overexpress APP protein relative to euploid controls. We investigated whether DS neurons generate an abnormal, APP-dependent GC phenotype in vitro. On laminin, which binds APP and β1 integrins (Itgb1), DS neurons formed enlarged and faster-advancing GCs compared to controls. On peptide matrices that bind APP only, but not on those binding exclusively Itgb1 or L1CAM, DS GCs were significantly enlarged (2.0-fold), formed increased close adhesions (1.8-fold), and advanced faster (1.4-fold). In assays involving alternating stripes of monospecific matrices, human control GCs exhibited no preference for any of the substrates, whereas DS GCs preferred the APP-binding matrix (cross-over decreased significantly from 48.2 to 27.2%). Reducing APP expression in DS GCs with siRNA normalized most measures of the phenotype, including substrate choice. These experiments show that human DS neurons exhibit an APP-dependent, abnormal GC phenotype characterized by increased adhesion and altered contact guidance. The results suggest that APP overexpression may perturb axonal pathfinding and circuit formation in developing DS brain.

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