The NC State simulation shows randomly placed peptides forming a fibril.
To get a better look at how proteins gather into clusters called amyloid fibrils – which are associated with important human diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the so-called prion diseases like Mad Cow – researchers at North Carolina State University decided to make movies.
Dr. Carol Hall, Alcoa Professor of chemical engineering at NC State and Hung D. Nguyen, a graduate student in Hall’s lab, used a computer simulation technique, discontinuous molecular dynamics, to visualize the meanderings of small proteins called peptides. Movies of the simulation show that 96 randomly placed peptides spontaneously aggregate into what Hall calls a “sandwich” of layered protein sheets, similar to the amyloid fibrils discovered in diseased people and animals. Hall says that understanding how fibrils form in human or animal organs may lead to discoveries of how to slow or halt fibril formation.
The research was published in the Nov. 16 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is not known whether fibrils cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the other so-called amyloid diseases, or whether they are just associated symptoms. In any event, the fibrils form plaques in human and animal organs, often the brain. Although it’s not clear if these plaques cause memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients, for instance, scientists are interested in finding out the mechanisms behind the formation of fibrils.
Dr. Carol Hall | EurekAlert!
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