A new mathematical model of Alzheimer’s disease has been developed

Researchers apply a mathematical model to discover how toxic proteins gather in the brain during early stages of the disease.
Brittney Grimes
Amyloid clusters in brain tissue of Alzheimer's disease illustration
Amyloid clusters in brain tissue of Alzheimer's disease illustration


Researchers reveal the way toxic proteins cluster in the brain during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease using a unique method - mathematics.

A novel approach

They’ve used a new mathematical model to reveal how the proteins gather in the brain. The research team, from the University of York’s School of Physics, Engineering and Technology, stated that the discovery could be implicated into future treatments.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.

The disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 50 million people around the world. The number of people impacted by this disease is expected to triple in less than 30 years. Its effects on the brain can be devastating.

In the United States alone, nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Age is the biggest factor in Alzheimer’s, but family history also shows an impact on developing the disease. It’s also fatal, with Alzheimer’s, or another form of dementia, killing 1 out of 3 seniors.

The study

The researchers found a major class of toxic proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s, known as amyloids. These proteins condense into objects that look like water droplets. Then they form clusters that affect normal brain functioning.

The contaminated amyloid proteins group together approximately 10 to 15 years before the first symptoms show, but previously, finding out the way the compound did so was uncertain.

The research team observed two variations of the amyloid protein, both of which are widely found in Alzheimer’s. They noticed that the proteins initially form droplets before forming clusters that contained the longer, more toxic form of the protein.

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Amyloid clusters and Alzheimer’s

Although amyloid proteins are believed to be an important part of the immune system, it’s the abnormally shaped version of the protein that clusters together and becomes potent. The formation of the toxic protein interferes with normal brain activities.

“Understanding the precise molecular-level ways through which amyloid clusters form may help us to design better anti-cluster drugs that combat Alzheimer’s disease at the earliest possible stage,” said Dr. Steve Quinn, an Alzheimer’s Research UK Fellow and Lecturer in Biophysics at the University of York.

He mentioned how studying the growth of silk created by spiders helped to comprehend the research of protein clusters. “We realized that the same methodologies that have been used previously to understand the growth of silk produced in spiders could also be applied to our understanding of amyloid clustering. Our work now provides theoretical support for the so-called Amyloid Hypothesis, and helps to explain the conditions under which clusters form,” Quinn stated.

The amyloid hypothesis explains that Alzheimer’s could be caused by the deposition and accumulation of amyloid compounds in brain tissue, causing pathogenesis — the development — of the disease.

The research team mentioned that this is the first-time details of early onset stages of amyloid clusters have been reviewed. “The properties of large pre-formed clusters have been studied in extensive detail, but until now, the molecular level details of their early-stage assembly have been difficult to assess,” said Dr. Charley Schaefer, the lead author of the study and research associate at the University of York.

Researchers hope that discovering exactly how the toxic protein clusters formed will better prepare them to develop targeted drug treatments for Alzheimer's disease in the future.

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