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IUBMB Life. 2007 Apr-May;59(4-5):332-45.

Soluble protein oligomers as emerging toxins in Alzheimer's and other amyloid diseases.

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Instituto de Bioquimica Medica, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Riode Janeiro, RJ 21944-590, Brazil.


Amyloid diseases are a group of degenerative disorders characterized by cell/tissue damage caused by toxic protein aggregates. Abnormal production, processing and/or clearance of misfolded proteins or peptides may lead to their accumulation and to the formation of amyloid aggregates. Early histopathological investigation of affected organs in different amyloid diseases revealed the ubiquitous presence of fibrillar protein aggregates forming large deposits known as amyloid plaques. Further in vitro biochemical and cell biology studies, as well as studies using transgenic animal models, provided strong support to what initially seemed to be a solid concept, namely that amyloid fibrils played crucial roles in amyloid pathogenesis. However, recent studies describing tissue-specific accumulation of soluble protein oligomers and their strong impact on cell function have challenged the fibril hypothesis and led to the emergence of a new view: Fibrils are not the only toxins derived from amyloidogenic proteins and, quite possibly, not the most important ones with respect to disease etiology. Here, we review some of the recent findings and concepts in this rapidly developing field, with emphasis on the involvement of soluble oligomers of the amyloid-beta peptide in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. Recent studies suggesting that soluble oligomers from different proteins may share common mechanisms of cytotoxicity are also discussed. Increased understanding of the cellular toxic mechanisms triggered by protein oligomers may lead to the development of rational, effective treatments for amyloid disorders.

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