The amyloid cascade hypothesis: are we poised for success or failure?

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Abstract

The first description of Alzheimer's disease (AD) was made in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer (Allgemeine Zeitschrift fur Psyciatrie und Psychisch-Gerichtliche Medizin64, 3, 1907), although other contemporary physicians had made similar, and rather more complete, assessments of the neuropathological changes present in the AD brain (Fischer, Monatsschr Psychiat Neurol22, 17, 1907). Our knowledge of AD has increased dramatically and continues to accelerate. This year is 25 years after the publication of a series of papers that, in various ways, articulated the amyloid cascade hypothesis (ACH) for AD (Beyreuther and Masters, Brain Pathol1, 241–251, 1991; Hardy and Allsop, Trends Pharmacol Sci12, 383–388, 1991; Selkoe, Neuron6, 487–498, 1991; Hardy and Higgins, Science256, 184–185, 1992). This review will cover some familiar territory, but we shall also place the ACH into a wider context, compare it with other hypotheses for AD, explore the evolution of the hypothesis to encompass new findings, and determine, irrespective of the merits of the hypothesis itself, whether it has been useful for the research field, both in academia and in industry. Finally, we shall review how the ACH has led to a number of therapeutic approaches, all of which have, to date, failed to reach their primary efficacy end-points in clinical trials and reflect upon what the future may hold.

We review the amyloid cascade hypothesis (ACH) and compare it with other hypotheses that have been posited to explain the initiation and progression Alzheimer's disease. We document the data that support the ACH, and also reflect upon its deficiencies. We list the recent clinical failures of amyloidocentric drugs and anticipate the results that new therapeutic approaches may deliver.

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