Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Modelling the build-up of misshapen proteins in the brain as they progress to cause diseases such as Alzheimer's

26 November 2018

Misshapen Minds

Mess tends to build up slowly, gradually gathering until you’re suddenly overrun with clutter and can’t find anything you need. A similar accumulation of unwanted debris can happen in the brain, resulting in conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Misshapen proteins clump to form plaques that clog up the brain. Understanding and predicting how this clutter gathers might help spot and stave off illnesses, so researchers have developed a new simulation of the process. They examined the formations in recently deceased patients’ brains, and then modelled how they would have taken shape. Although the diseases are incredibly complex, this progression is surprisingly consistent. Their simulations, such as the Alzheimer’s development pictured with the memory-wrecking protein amyloid beta in orange, and destructive tau protein in blue, illustrate formations that can develop over 30 years. Better understanding of how small clumps spread to engulf the brain might help earlier diagnosis, and eventually better treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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