After years of intense work, researchers have discovered the 3-dimensional structure of a miniscule–yet mighty–region of a protein that forms deleterious rope-like structures in the brain. Known as amyloid fibrils, the proteins are associated with the degenerative brain disorders Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, and so-called prion diseases like mad cow. This particular region of the protein catalyzes the formation of a “molecular zipper,” which pulls proteins together to form the stubbornly stable clumps.
Knowing the structure will help researchers devise new treatments for the more than two-dozen human diseases associated with fibrils, which are attributed to killing neurons and other types of cells. Effective therapeutics may reverse the zipping to break down persistent fibrils or prevent them from forming in the first place. The work appears in the June 9 issue of the journal Nature.