Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Transmission routes of spreading protein particles

Study on cell cultures gives insights into the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases

In diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s endogenous proteins accumulate in the brain, eventually leading to the death of nerve cells.

Nerve cells under the microscope: Spreading of protein particles between cells. Cells that produce protein particles (shown in turquoise) trigger formation of deposits of the same protein (shown in green) in neighboring cells. Source: J. Hofmann

These deposits, which consist of abnormally formed proteins, are supposed to migrate between interconnected areas of the brain, thereby contributing to the development of the illness. Now, a new laboratory study by scientists from Germany and the US shows that certain protein particles are indeed capable of multiplying and spreading from one cell to the next.

The investigation was conducted by researchers of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn and Munich who cooperated with scientists from the US and from other German institutions. The results are now published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA“ (PNAS).

Are particles consisting of deformed proteins capable of moving from one cell’s interior to the next, multiplying and spreading as in a chain reaction? The team of scientists headed by Ina Vorberg, who is a researcher at the DZNE site in Bonn and a professor at the University of Bonn, investigated this hypothesis. The scientists did so with the help of cell cultures, which allowed them to adapt experiments to specific questions.

The researchers used cultured brain cells that originated from mice. The genetic code of a model protein was transferred into these cells, enabling the scientists to control production of the protein.

A yeast particle

The blueprint of the molecule was extracted from yeast DNA. This protein does not exist in humans. Nevertheless, the scientists chose this particular protein because it had several properties that were relevant for the study: In its natural environment – the yeast cell – it is capable of forming replicating “aggregates” (i. e. large protein particles). The protein deforms during this process. Now, the question was, whether something similar would happen in mammalian cells.

“At first, our mouse cells produced the protein, but no particles formed,” Vorberg reports. “The situation changed when we exposed the cells to aggregates of the same protein. Suddenly, the proteins which had been in solution started building clumps.”

Diffusing aggregates
Once this reaction had been triggered the cells went on producing aggregates. The researchers noticed that these clumps spread into neighboring cells, where they initiated synthesis of further aggregates.

“We have experimentally shown that certain protein particles originating from the cytosol, i. e. from inside the cells, are able to spread between cells. This means that in mammalian cells there are mechanisms capable of triggering such a chain reaction. Accordingly, what we have shown in our model system may be applicable to neurodegenerative diseases,” Vorberg comments.

Propagation of aggregates was most effective between adjacent cells. “At least in our model system, protein particles are not released efficiently into the medium and assimilated by neighboring cells. The most effective transmission happens by direct cell-to-cell contact. It is possible that cells form protrusions and that aggregates move from one cell to the next through this connection”, says the neuroscientist. What is happening here will be the focus of further research.

Basis for potential therapies

“It is important to know how protein particles disseminate”, Vorberg emphasizes. “Disease-related protein particles might propagate in a similar way to the model protein we investigated.”

Unraveling the mechanism for transmission between cells could lead to new methods for treatment. “If we find a way to prevent the spreading of disease-related protein particles, we might be able to interfere with the progression of the diseases,” Vorberg says.

Original publication
„Cell-to-cell propagation of infectious cytosolic protein aggregates”, Julia P. Hofmann, Philip Denner, Carmen Nussbaum-Krammer, Peer-Hendrik Kuhn, Michael H. Suhre, Thomas Scheibel, Stefan F. Lichtenthaler, Hermann M. Schätzl, Daniele Bano, Ina M. Vorberg, PNAS, online at: :

The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) investigates the causes of diseases of the nervous system and develops strategies for prevention, treatment and care. It is an institution of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres with sites in Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, Tübingen and Witten. The DZNE cooperates closely with universities, their clinics and other research facilities. Website:

Media Contact
Prof. Dr. Ina M. Vorberg
Group Leader
DZNE, Bonn
Tel.: 0049 228 43302-560

Dr. Dirk Förger
Head of Press and Public Relations of the DZNE
DZNE, Bonn
Tel.: 0049 228 43302-260

Sonja Jülich-Abbas | idw
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 >>>