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Protein mobs kill cells that most need those proteins to survive

Artificial amyloid experiment gives insight into Alzheimer’s, other diseases

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2:00pm, November 10, 2016
illustration of vascin

CRITICAL MASSES  Researchers have created an artificially clumpy protein, called vascin, which mimics the plaque-forming ability of proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Vascin (red/yellow), a fragment of the VEGFR2 protein, forms fibers (gray strings in background) that penetrate cells (blue) and gum up the normal VEGFR2 protein (green, center), killing cells that rely on its action.

Joining a gang doesn’t necessarily make a protein a killer, a new study suggests. This clumping gets dangerous only under certain circumstances. 

A normally innocuous protein can be engineered to clump into fibers similar to those formed by proteins involved in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain-wasting prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, researchers report in the Nov. 11 Science. Cells that rely on the protein’s normal function for survival die when the proteins glom together. But cells that don’t need the protein are unharmed by the gang activity, the researchers discovered. The finding may shed light on why clumping proteins that lead to degenerative brain diseases kill some cells, but leave others untouched.

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