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A new study published this month in Nature marks a key milestone in Alzheimer’s research. It demonstrates the first complete model of a tau filament, a protein structure found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients and thought to be the cause of the neurodegenerative disease.
Many scientists believe that tau proteins are the molecular building blocks of Alzheimer’s disease. Within the cell, these proteins clump together and group into tangles. These tangles are thought to inhibit cell communication, form lesions, and eventually cause the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s. Different arrangements of tau proteins, or “morphologies,” can accompany different neurodegenerative diseases such Parkinson’s.
The new paper, published by a group of researchers from the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, maps the first full structure of those proteins for the first time. The researchers found that the tau filament actually consists of two parts: a solid core that had been previously identified through other methods, and a “fuzzy coat” of more mobile parts that were previously unknown. Seen below in schematic representations from the paper, the protein consists of two paired strands curved into a C-shape.
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