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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Dec 22;95(26):15712-7.

A nucleated assembly mechanism of Alzheimer paired helical filaments.

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Max-Planck-Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, Notkestrasse 85, D-22607 Hamburg, Germany.


Alzheimer's disease is characterized by two types of fibrous aggregates in the affected brains, the amyloid fibers (consisting of the Abeta-peptide, generating the amyloid plaques), and paired helical filaments (PHFs; made up of tau protein, forming the neurofibrillary tangles). Hence, tau protein, a highly soluble protein that normally stabilizes microtubules, becomes aggregated into insoluble fibers that obstruct the cytoplasm of neurons and cause a loss of microtubule stability. We have developed recently a rapid assay for monitoring PHF assembly and show here that PHFs arise from a nucleated assembly mechanism. The PHF nucleus comprises about 8-14 tau monomers. A prerequisite for nucleation is the dimerization of tau because tau dimers act as effective building blocks. PHF assembly can be seeded by preformed filaments (made either in vitro or isolated from Alzheimer brain tissue). These results suggest that dimerization and nucleation are the rate-limiting steps for PHF formation in vivo.

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