Low levels of toxic proteins linked to brain diseases, study suggests

July 2, 2013

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's could be better understood thanks to insight into proteins linked to such conditions, a study suggests.

Scientists studying thread-like chains of protein – called amyloid fibres – have found that low levels of these proteins may cause more harm to health than high levels.

These rarely formed protein chains, which have been linked with dozens of diseases, are produced as a result of a or changes in body chemistry brought about by ageing.

When this happens, short fibres are formed which become sticky and attract copies of themselves, forming an endless chain. These chains spontaneously break, creating more filament ends to which more proteins attach.

In the context of neurodegenerative diseases, it is these short, broken pieces that seem to be most harmful, scientists say.

Researchers have found that when are low, lots of short protein threads are formed. But when protein levels are high, this spontaneous breakage stops and most remain long.

Compared with harmful short protein fibres, long fibres do not appear to be damaging in the case of . Researchers therefore believe that high levels of the protein – which lead to these longer chains – may actually be protective.

In addition to shedding light on disease, this insight into the protein chains may help scientists develop useful biomaterials, such as cell scaffolds, which are used for tissue engineering or to make artificial silk.

Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, said; "We would expect that the higher the level of toxins, the worse the disease. However, in this study we found that the lower the level of the protein, the more of these damaging short fibres we see. Understanding how these protein chains form offers us insight not only into how diseases progress, but how we can produce controlled for tissue engineering."

Explore further: Culprit implicated in neurodegenerative diseases also critical for normal cells

More information: The study is published in Nature Communications.

Related Stories

Culprit implicated in neurodegenerative diseases also critical for normal cells

June 13, 2013
The propensity of proteins to stick together in large clumps—termed "protein aggregation"—is the culprit behind a variety of conditions including Huntington's, Alzheimer's, and mad cow diseases. With this notoriety, protein ...

Recommended for you

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids

July 18, 2017
Chemical compounds called cannabinoids are found in marijuana and also are produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids. A well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for some of its ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.