Imaging tool gives insight into origins of Alzheimer's

April 2, 2014, Lancaster University

Researchers at Lancaster University have invented a new imaging tool inspired by the humble sewing machine which is providing fresh insight into the origins of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

These diseases are caused by tiny toxic proteins too small to be studied with traditional optical microscopy.

Previously it was thought that Alzheimer's was caused by the accumulation of long 'amyloid' fibres at the centre of senile plaques in the brain, due to improper folding of a protein called amyloid-β.

But new research suggests that these fibres and plaques are actually the body's protective response to the presence of even smaller, more toxic structures made from amyloid-β called 'oligomers'.

Existing techniques are not sufficient to get a good look at these proteins; does not provide enough resolution at this scale, and electron microscopy gives the resolution but not the contrast.

To solve the problem, Physicist Dr Oleg Kolosov and his team at Lancaster have developed a new imaging technique - Ultrasonic Force Microscopy (UFM) - inspired by the motion of a . Their work has been published in Scientific Reports.

Dr Kolosov said: "By using a vibrating scanner, which moves quickly up and down like the foot of a sewing machine needle, the friction between the sample and the scanner was reduced – resulting in a better quality, and high contrast nanometre scale resolution image."

It is one of a new generation of tools being developed worldwide to bring the oligomers into focus, enabling medical researchers to understand how they behave.

At Lancaster, Claire Tinker used UFM to image these oligomers. To help see them more clearly she needed to increase the contrast of the image and used poly-L-lysine (PLL) which kept the proteins stuck to the slides as the vibrating scanner was passed over them.

Lancaster University Biomedical Scientist Professor David Allsop said: "These high quality images are vitally important if we are to understand the pathways involved in formation of these oligomers, and this new technique will now be used to test the effects of inhibitors of oligomer formation that we are developing as a possible new treatment for Alzheimer's disease."

The technique worked so well that the team now hopes to develop it so that oligomer formation can be monitored as they are made in real time.

This would give researchers a clearer understanding of the early phases of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and could potentially be one way of developing a future test for these diseases.

Explore further: Researchers hone in on Alzheimer's disease

More information: "Ultrasonic force microscopy for nanomechanical characterization of early and late-stage amyloid-β peptide aggregation." Claire Tinker-Mill, Jennifer Mayes, David Allsop & Oleg V. Kolosov. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 4004. DOI: 10.1038/srep04004

Related Stories

Researchers hone in on Alzheimer's disease

February 18, 2014
Researchers studying peptides using the Gordon supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have found new ways to elucidate the creation of the toxic oligomers ...

Early detection of Alzheimer's disease made possible by analyzing spinal fluid

March 20, 2014
Researchers have shown that they can detect tiny, misfolded protein fragments in cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients. Such fragments have been suggested to be the main culprit in Alzheimer's disease. The findings reported ...

Discovery sheds light on why Alzheimer's meds rarely help

July 1, 2013
New research reveals that the likely culprit behind Alzheimer's disease has a different molecular structure than current drugs' target—perhaps explaining why these medications produce little improvement in patients.

Clue to cause of Alzheimer's dementia found in brain samples

October 22, 2012
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a key difference in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and those who are cognitively normal but still have brain plaques that characterize ...

Fighting Alzheimer's disease with protein origami

July 12, 2013
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative brain disease most commonly characterized by memory deficits. Loss of memory function, in particular, is known to be caused by neuronal damage arising from the misfolding ...

Shining light on amyloid protein nanostructures

August 14, 2012
Scientists from the MESA+ and MIRA research institutes at the University of Twente have developed a new method to gain insight into the composition of large macromolecular protein assemblies. Their method allows the determination ...

Recommended for you

Rocky start for Alzheimer's drug research in 2018

January 19, 2018
The year 2018, barely underway, has already dealt a series of disheartening blows to the quest for an Alzheimer's cure.

Alzheimer's disease: Neuronal loss very limited

January 17, 2018
Frequently encountered in the elderly, Alzheimer's is considered a neurodegenerative disease, which means that it is accompanied by a significant, progressive loss of neurons and their nerve endings, or synapses. A joint ...

Anxiety: An early indicator of Alzheimer's disease?

January 12, 2018
A new study suggests an association between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms. The findings support the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms could represent the early manifestation of ...

One of the most promising drugs for Alzheimer's disease fails in clinical trials

January 11, 2018
To the roughly 400 clinical trials that have tested some experimental treatment for Alzheimer's disease and come up short, we can now add three more.

Different disease types associated with distinct amyloid-beta prion strains found in Alzheimer's patients

January 9, 2018
An international team of researchers has found different disease type associations with distinct amyloid-beta prion strains in the brains of dead Alzheimer's patients. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National ...

Advances in brain imaging settle debate over spread of key protein in Alzheimer's

January 5, 2018
Recent advances in brain imaging have enabled scientists to show for the first time that a key protein which causes nerve cell death spreads throughout the brain in Alzheimer's disease - and hence that blocking its spread ...

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.