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α-Sheet secondary structure in amyloid β-peptide drives aggregation and toxicity in Alzheimer’s disease

March 23, 2023

PNAS | April 19, 2019

Dylan Shea, Cheng-Chieh Hsu, Timothy M. Bi, Natasha Paranjapye, Matthew Carter Childers, Joshua Cochran, Colson P. Tomberlin, Libo Wang, Daniel Paris, Jeffrey Zonderman, Gabriele Varani, Christopher D. Link, Mike Mullan, and Valerie Daggett.

Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2019 Apr 30;116(18):8895-8900.

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1820585116.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by the deposition of β-sheet–rich, insoluble amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) plaques; however, plaque burden is not correlated with cognitive impairment in AD patients; instead, it is correlated with the presence of toxic soluble oligomers. Here, we show, by a variety of different techniques, that these Aβ oligomers adopt a nonstandard secondary structure, termed “α-sheet.” These oligomers form in the lag phase of aggregation, when Aβ-associated cytotoxicity peaks, en route to forming nontoxic β-sheet fibrils. De novo-designed α-sheet peptides specifically and tightly bind the toxic oligomers over monomeric and fibrillar forms of Aβ, leading to inhibition of aggregation in vitro and neurotoxicity in neuroblastoma cells. Based on this specific binding, a soluble oligomer-binding assay (SOBA) was developed as an indirect probe of α-sheet content. Combined SOBA and toxicity experiments demonstrate a strong correlation between α-sheet content and toxicity. The designed α-sheet peptides are also active in vivo where they inhibit Aβ-induced paralysis in a transgenic Aβ Caenorhabditis elegans model and specifically target and clear soluble, toxic oligomers in a transgenic APPsw mouse model. The α-sheet hypothesis has profound implications for further understanding the mechanism behind AD pathogenesis.

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