Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Neutrons Provide First Sub-Nanoscale Snapshots of Huntington’s Disease Protein

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee have for the first time successfully characterized the earliest structural formation of the disease type of the protein that causes Huntington’s disease. The incurable, hereditary neurological disorder is always fatal and affects one in 10,000 Americans.

Huntington’s disease is caused by a renegade protein “huntingtin” that destroys neurons in areas of the brain concerned with the emotions, intellect and movement. All humans have the normal huntingtin protein, which is known to be essential to human life, although its true biological functions remain unclear.

Christopher Stanley, a Shull Fellow in the Neutron Scattering Science Division at ORNL, and Valerie Berthelier, a UT Graduate School of Medicine researcher who studies protein folding and misfolding in Huntington’s, have used a small-angle neutron scattering instrument, called Bio-SANS, at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor to explore the earliest aggregate species of the protein that are believed to be the most toxic.

Stanley and Berthelier, in research published today in Biophysical Journal, were able to determine the size and mass of the mutant protein structures¯from the earliest small, spherical precursor species composed of two (dimers) and three (trimers) peptides¯along the aggregation pathway to the development of the resulting, later-stage fibrils. They were also able to see inside the later-stage fibrils and determine their internal structure, which provides additional insight into how the peptides aggregate.

“Bio-SANS is a great instrument for taking time-resolved snapshots. You can look at how this stuff changes as a function of time and be able to catch the structures at the earliest of times,” Stanley said. “When you study several of these types of systems with different glutamines or different conditions, you begin to learn more and more about the nature of these aggregates and how they begin forming.”

Normal huntingtin contains a region of 10 to 20 glutamine amino acids in succession. However, the DNA of Huntington’s disease patients encodes for 37 or more glutamines, causing instability in huntingtin fragments that contain this abnormally long glutamine repeat. Consequentially, the mutant protein fragment cannot be degraded normally and instead forms deposits of fibrils in neurons.

Those deposits, or clumps, were originally seen as the cause of the devastation that ensues in the brain. More recently researchers think the clumping may actually be a kind of biological housecleaning, an attempt by the brain cells to clean out these toxic proteins from places where they are destructive. Stanley and Berthelier set out to learn through neutron scattering what the toxic proteins were and when and where they occurred.

At the HFIR Bio-SANS instrument, the neutron beam comes through a series of mirrors that focus it on the sample. The neutrons interact with the sample, providing data on its atomic structure, and then the neutrons scatter, to be picked up by a detector. From the data the detector sends of the scattering pattern, researchers can deduce at a scale of less than billionths of a meter the size and shape of the diseased, aggregating protein, at each time-step along its growth pathway.

SANS was able to distinguish the small peptide aggregates in the sample solution from the rapidly forming and growing larger aggregates that are simultaneously present. In separate experiments, they were able to monitor the disappearance of the single peptides, as well as the formation of the mature fibrils.

Now that they know the structures, the hope is to develop drugs that can counteract the toxic properties in the early stages, or dissuade them from taking the path to toxicity. “The next step would be, let’s take drug molecules and see how they can interact and affect these structures,” Stanley said.

For now, the researchers believes Bio-SANS will be useful in the further study of Huntington’s disease aggregates and applicable for the study of other protein aggregation processes, such as those involved in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

“That is the future hope. Right now, we feel like we are making a positive contribution towards that goal,” Stanley said.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health. HFIR and Bio-SANS are supported by the DOE Office of Science.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

NOTE TO EDITORS: You may read other press releases from Oak Ridge National Laboratory or learn more about the lab at Additional information about ORNL is available at the sites below:

Twitter -

RSS Feeds -

Flickr -

YouTube -

LinkedIn -

Facebook -

Bill Cabage | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>