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FEBS J. 2011 Oct;278(20):3884-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2011.08295.x. Epub 2011 Sep 6.

Protein engineering to stabilize soluble amyloid β-protein aggregates for structural and functional studies.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden.


The molecular biology underlying protein aggregation and neuronal death in Alzheimer's disease is not yet completely understood, but small soluble nonamyloid aggregates of the amyloid β-protein (Aβ) have been shown to play a fundamental neurotoxic role. The composition and biological action of such aggregates, known as oligomers and protofibrils, are therefore areas of intense study. However, research is complicated by the multitude of different interconverting aggregates that Aβ can form in vitro and in vivo, and by the inhomogeneity and instability of in vitro preparations. Here we review recent studies in which protein engineering, and in particular disulfide engineering, has been applied to stabilize different Aβ aggregates. For example, several techniques now exist to obtain stable and neurotoxic protofibrillar forms of Aβ, and engineered Aβ dimers, or larger aggregates formed by these, have been shown to specifically induce neuronal damage in a way that mimics Alzheimer's disease pathology. Disulfide engineering has also revealed structural properties of neurotoxic aggregates, for instance that Aβ in protofibrils and globular oligomers adopts a β-hairpin conformation that is similar to, but topologically distinct from, the conformation of Aβ in mature amyloid fibrils. Protein engineering is therefore a workable strategy to address many of the outstanding questions relating to the structure, interconversion and biological effects of oligomers and protofibrils of Aβ.

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