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News Release 07-048

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Type 2 Diabetes Similar at Molecular Level

Protein analysis may offer new therapeutic route

Micro-crystals help find tiny structures in Alzheimer's, other diseases, shown against a U.S. dime.

Micro-crystals help find tiny structures in Alzheimer's, other diseases, shown against a U.S. dime.


April 30, 2007

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, the human version of mad cow disease, and other degenerative diseases are more closely related at the molecular level than scientists realized, a team reports this week in an advanced online publication of the journal Nature.

While still preliminary, the research, could help scientists develop tools for diagnosing such diseases, and potentially for treating them through "structure-based drug design," said David Eisenberg, a UCLA chemist and molecular biologist who is part of the research team.

The researchers studied the harmful rope-like structures known as amyloid fibrils--linked protein molecules that form in the brain. The fibrils contain a stack of water-tight "molecular zippers."

"With each disease, a different protein transforms into amyloid fibrils, but all of these diseases are similar at the molecular level," Eisenberg said.

If the molecular zipper is universal in amyloid fibrils, as Eisenberg believes, is it possible to pry open the zipper or prevent its formation?

Eisenberg's research team used X-ray analysis and a sophisticated computer algorithm to study proteins known to be associated with human diseases. When the computer said a protein will form an amyloid fibril, it almost always did. And one team member is experimenting with various compounds to break up the fibrils.

"Structural analysis of micro-crystals of proteins is an example of how basic research can have a profound impact on our understanding of health, biotechnology and other practical issues," said Parag Chitnis, program director in National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.

NSF, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health supported the research.

See the UCLA news release at http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=7899&menu=fullsearchresults.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email: cdybas@nsf.gov
Stuart Wolpert, UCLA, (310) 206-0511, email: swolpert@support.ucla.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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