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New discovery facilitates the hunt for methods to limit Alzheimer’s disease

For the first time, an international research team has succeeded in quantifying the toxic oligomers that break down the nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The discovery could be crucial in the hunt for new methods to limit the rapidly growing dementia disease.
Two researchers in a laboratory. Photo.

For the first time, an international research team has succeeded in quantifying the toxic oligomers that break down the nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The discovery could be crucial in the hunt for new methods to limit the rapidly growing dementia disease.

In Alzheimer’s disease, the neurons in one or several of the brain regions are destroyed, leading to memory problems and difficulties in interpreting impressions from both the senses and the environment. Initially, the axons and their connections with other cells are destroyed, but in time, the whole neuron dies. The brains of patients with advanced Alzheimer’s have plaques, fibrils, tau protein as well as smaller aggregates of the beta-amyloid protein, so called oligomers. These are now being examined in a major study involving researchers from Lund University. In the article, published in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry, the team has succeeded in measuring how quickly the oligomers form and disappear during an ongoing reaction.  

“The oligomers are toxic and destroy neurons. However, prior to this study, researchers had not succeeded in collecting data that solves the mechanism for how they form and disappear, something that has only been done for the larger and more benign associations in the form of fibrils”, says Sara Snogerup Linse, professor of chemistry at Lund University.

It was previously thought that Alzheimer’s was primarily caused by plaques. However, in the past two decades, the research community has become aware of the importance of oligomers. One of the most important discoveries in the new study is how unstable the oligomers are, as well as the fact that just a fraction of them, only a few per cent, turn into fibrils.

“To be able to limit Alzheimer’s disease we must find methods to reduce the formation of oligomers. Our results facilitate the hunt”, says Sara Snogerup Linse.

In addition to Lund University, the following universities participated in the study: University of Cambridge, Harvard University, University College London, University of Maribor, ETH Zurich.

The study is presented in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry.

Publication: "Dynamics of oligomer populations formed during the aggregation of Alzheimer’s Aβ42 peptide" - nature.com

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