Amyloid beta-protein (A beta), the principal constituent of senile plaques seen in Alzheimer's disease (AD), is derived by proteolysis from the beta-amyloid precursor protein (beta PP). The mechanism of A beta production in neurons, which are hypothesized to be a rich source of A beta in brain, remains to be defined. In this study, we describe a detailed localization of cell surface beta PP and its subsequent trafficking in primary cultured neurons. Full-length cell surface beta PP was present primarily on perikarya and axons, the latter with a characteristic discontinuous pattern. At growth cones, cell surface beta PP was inconsistently detected. By visualizing the distribution of beta PP monoclonal antibodies added to intact cultures, beta PP was shown to be internalized from distal axons or terminals and retrogradely transported back to perikarya in organelles which colocalized with fluid-phase endocytic markers. Retrograde transport of beta PP was shown in both hippocampal and peripheral sympathetic neurons, the latter using a compartment culture system that isolated cell bodies from distal axons and terminals. In addition, we demonstrated that beta PP from distal axons was transcytotically transported to the surface of perikarya from distal axons in sympathetic neurons. Indirect evidence of this transcytotic pathway was obtained in hippocampal neurons using antisense oligonucleotide to the kinesin heavy chain to inhibit anterograde beta PP transport. Taken together, these results demonstrate novel aspects of beta PP trafficking in neurons, including retrograde axonal transport and transcytosis. Moreover, the axonal predominance of cell surface beta PP is unexpected in view of the recent report of polarized sorting of beta PP to the basolateral domain of MDCK cells.

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