ISS's Microgravity is Ideal to Study Alzheimer's Protein

The abnormal protein amyloid is associated with various disorders, including Alzheimer's disease.
Chris Young

Amyloids, an abnormal fibrillar aggregate of proteins, are associated with several conditions, including Alzheimer's disease

An in-depth understanding of the mechanisms of amyloids, therefore, is crucial for the development of clinical strategies and drugs against such diseases.

Now, a research team from Japan has observed amyloid formation under microgravity conditions using the International Space Station (ISS).


Studying amyloid formation in space

Growing evidence suggests that amyloid formation processes and the consequent morphology of fibrils can be affected by various environmental factors. One of these factors, gravity, causes convectional perturbations in the microenvironments surrounding amyloid fibrils in solution.

Due to this, it is likely to affect the processes of molecular assembly needed to study the protein, a National Institutes of Natural Sciences press release explains.

ISS's Microgravity is Ideal to Study Alzheimer's Protein
A very high magnification micrograph of cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), Source: Nephron/Wikimedia Commons

To test this possibility, a team from Japan, involving Exploratory Research Center on Life and Living Systems (ExCELLS), Institute for Molecular Science (IMS), and National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS) of National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Nagoya City University (NCU), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), characterized amyloid formation under microgravity conditions in the ISS.

The ISS is the ideal experimental environment

The scientists compared the fibril formation of Alheimer's disease-related amyloid β (Aβ) proteins on the ISS with that on the Earth. They found that the process of Aβ fibrillization significantly slowed down in the microgravity environment. Not only that, distinct morphologies of Aβ fibrils were also found to form on the ISS.

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The project highlights the International Space Station as an ideal experimental environment — as also evidenced by recent experiments with the 'fifth state of matter' aboard the space station — for investigating the mechanisms of amyloid formation away from the uncontrollable effects of gravity back on Earth.

The team's findings were published in the journal NatureIn the future, the researchers mean to carry on their research in order to find crucial insights into the pathological amyloid formation.

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