Alzheimer’s is a disease that has a major effect on cognitive function that causes clusters of beta-amyloid protein to collect in brain cells. Recently, scientists have created a protein that can block beta-amyloid in its early and most harmful stages.
Stopping Alzheimer’s Brain Damage
This new research may have found a way to stop Alzheimer’s-related brain damage in its early stages. The synthetic protein folds into structures called alpha sheets. These sheets bind to early-stage small clumps of beta-amyloid and stop them forming larger masses.
Scientists from the University of Washington designed this synthetic peptide (protein) and tested it in cells and animals.
What the Tests Showed
The alpha sheets they produced reduced the toxic impact of beta-amyloid in cultured human cells. Also, they blocked early forms of beta-amyloid in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe that these findings could lead to treatments that remove the toxic beta-amyloid in its early forms. This can create a potential for using the peptide as the basis of a test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear.
Different Forms of Beta-amyloid
Even though beta-amyloid is a major factor of Alzheimer’s disease, not all forms of beta-amyloid are toxic. Brain cells make the protein in a simple form called a monomer, which forms beta-amyloid that carries out essential jobs in brains cells.
In people with Alzheimer’s the monomers change into clusters, containing up to 12 monomers. These formations are common in diseases because the protein fails to fold properly into the shape necessary to do its job. This causes oligomers continuing to grow into longer shapes, eventually forming plaque in the brain.
How Are These Oligomers Toxic
When scientists first began researching they thought that plaques were the most toxic form of beta-amyloid, producing loss of memory and thinking capacity.
Growing evidence proved otherwise, showing that early oligomer stages of beta-amyloid are the most toxic brain cells.
How Synthetic Protein Targets Oligomers
The researchers designed the synthetic peptide alpha sheets to target beta-amyloid while it is at the oligomer-forming stage. It’s about targeting a specific structure of beta-amyloid formed by the toxic oligomers.
The study shows that it is possible to devise synthetic peptide alpha sheets whose structures complement those of beta-amyloid as it assumes a toxic form, while leaving the biologically active monomers intact.
How it Will Work to Fight Alzheimer’s
The team studied how beta-amyloid progressed from monomers to oligomers to plaques in cultured human brain cells. By doing so they confirmed that oligomers are more harmful to brain cells than plaques. This finding supports studies that have found beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of people without Alzheimer’s disease.
The team showed that treating samples of brain tissue from a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease with alpha sheets of synthetic peptide led to an 82 percent reduction in beta-amyloid oligomers. In addition, treating the live mice with alpha sheets of synthetic peptide reduced their beta-amyloid oligomer levels by 40 percent within 24 hours.
Finally, the researchers showed that it could be possible to use alpha sheets of synthetic peptide to test for levels of beta-amyloid oligomers. Scientists are already experimenting with new versions of synthetic peptide alpha sheets to find those that can neutralize beta-amyloid oligomers even more effectively.
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