For the first time, scientists have revealed the chemical structure of one of the key markers of Alzheimer’s disease, capturing high-resolution images of the abnormal tau protein deposits suspected to be behind Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.
The results will now give scientists an unprecedented glimpse at how these harmful deposits function at a molecular level, and could lead to a number of new treatments to prevent them from forming – and in doing so, help to combat Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“This is a tremendous step forward,”says one of the team, Bernardino Ghetti from Indiana University.
“It’s clear that tau is extremely important to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of dementia. In terms of designing therapeutic agents, the possibilities are now enormous.”
In the new study, researchers led by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in the UK extracted tau protein filaments from the brain of a deceased patient with a confirmed diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and imaged them using a technique called called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM).
Alzheimer’s disease is linked to the build-up of two kinds of abnormal protein deposits – tau filaments, which form inside nerve cells, and amyloid beta proteins, which builds up outside cells.
In healthy brains, tau acts as a stabiliser, but when the proteins become defective, they can form into bundles of tangled filaments, which are thought to impede communication between brain cells, leading to the neurodegeneration and reduced cognitive ability seen in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers have studied the tau protein’s involvement in Alzheimer’s for decades, but up until now, we’ve never been able to see tau filaments up so close – and the molecular insights afforded …
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