Synaptic degeneration and death of neurons in limbic and cortical brain regions are the fundamental processes responsible for the manifestation of cognitive dysfunction and behavioural abnormalities in Alzheimers disease (AD). Despite the various genetic and environmental factors, and the aging process itself that may lead to the manifestation of AD, multiple evidence from studies in experimental models and in AD brain tissue demonstrate that the underlying neurodegeneration is associated with morphological and biochemical features of apoptosis. At the cellular level, neuronal apoptosis in AD may be initiated by oxidative stress and related DNA damage, disruption of cellular calcium homeostasis, or endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. The molecular mechanisms of the biochemical cascades of apoptosis are beginning to be understood and involve upstream effectors such as Par-4, p53, and pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members, which mediate mitochondrial dysfunction and subsequent release of pro-apoptotic proteins, such as cytochrome c or apoptosis inducing factor (AIF), and subsequent caspase-dependent and -independent pathways which finally result in degradation of proteins and nuclear DNA. The regulation of apoptotic cascades is complex and involves transcriptional control as well as posttranscriptional protein modifications, such as protease-mediated cleavage, ubiquitination or poly(ADP-ribosylation). More recently, the regulation of protein phosphorylation by kinases and phosphatases is emerging as a prerequisite mechanism in the control of the apoptotic cell death program. A better understanding of the molecular underpinnings of neuronal apoptosis will lead to novel preventive and therapeutic approaches to the neurodegenerative processes in Alzheimers disease and other neurological disorders where programmed cell death is prominent.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, oxidative stress, DNA damage, ER stress, Par-4, AIF, GSK-3β, protein phosphatases