UK scientists at the University of Sussex have designed a new protein that may help shed light on why nerve cells die in people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The new protein closely resembles Amyloid-beta (Abeta), a type of protein commonly found in Alzheimer’s, but is non-toxic and does not form sticky clumps like the original.
“This is a really exciting new tool that will contribute to research to uncover the causes for Alzheimer’s disease and enable tangible progress to be made towards finding targets for therapy,” said Professor Louise Serpell, a senior author on the study and co-director of the University of Sussex’s Dementia Research Group.
In people with Alzheimer’s, Amyloid-beta (Abeta) proteins stick together to make amyloid fibrils — or sticky clumps — between neurons in the brain. It is thought that these clumps cause brain cells to die, leading to the cognitive decline seen in patients with Alzheimer’s.
It is still unknown, however, why this particular protein’s “stickiness” results in cell death, and scientists have been unable to properly test whether the sticky clumps of Abeta proteins exert different effects, compared with individual proteins that are not stuck together.
Now University of Sussex scientists have created a new protein which closely resembles the Abeta protein in size and shape, but contains two different amino acids. Because of this, the new protein does not form amyloid fibers or sticky clumps, and, unlike Abeta, is not toxic to nerve cells.
The new protein will be an essential laboratory tool for researchers seeking to discover the role that Abeta plays in Alzheimer’s disease.
“Understanding how the brain protein Abeta causes nerve cell death in Alzheimer’s patients is key if we are to find a cure for this disease,” said study leader Dr. Karen Marshall.
“Our study clearly shows that the aggregation of Abeta into bigger species is critical in its ability to kill cells. Stopping the protein aggregating in people with Alzheimer’s could slow down the progression symptoms of the disease. We hope to work towards finding a strategy to do this in the lab and reverse the damaging effects of toxic Abeta.”
The scientists who designed it are now working closely with the Sussex Innovation Centre, the University’s business-incubation hub, to research commercial opportunities for the protein.
“This is an really exciting development. The Centre is thrilled to be working alongside Professor Serpell to make sure the benefits offered by this new laboratory tool are made widely available to the Alzheimer’s research community in the very near future,” said Peter Lane, Innovation Support Manager at The Sussex Innovation Centre.
Source: University of Sussex
PHOTO: 1. Healthy neuron. 2. Neuron with amyloid plaques (yellow). 3. Dead neuron being digested by microglia cells (red).