Monday, September 8, 2008

New Method to Identify Protein Structures Related to Alzheimer Disease

Recently, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new method of identifying protein structures related to Alzheimer's disease.

The research team confirms its computer-based technique able to help in the development of medicines that could prevent the formation of such structures.

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by two kinds of proteins (tau and amyloid) that accumulate in the brain. For information, the MIT team focused on tau. Most proteins have similar structures. According to Dr. Collin M. Stultz, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, researchers can measure the lengths of individual molecules, and the average will be a good description of any one.

However, Stultz said that tau molecules are all over the place, they are so diverse that it is difficult to get one measurement that describes all of the possible structures. This makes it a challenge to detect specific tau structures associated with Alzheimer's.

The MIT team developed a method called Energy-minima Mapping and Weighting (EMW) and "generated lots and lots of structures for both normal tau and a mutant form" associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

According to Stultz, further analysis revealed that one structure was more common in the mutant form of tau and therefore likely to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's. That structure could become a target for new drug development.

The study looked at one mutant form of tau associated with Alzheimer's, but there are several others. Stultz said he hopes to use EMW to create "a list of all types of suspect conformations for known tau mutants. Then, from that list, we can design drugs for each."

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