"Molecular Zipper" May Hold Important Clues To Alzheimer's, Parkinson's And Mad Cow Disease

An international team of chemists and molecular biologists has discovered a fundamental molecular mechanism that seems to play an important role in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, mad cow disease and two-dozen other degenerative and fatal diseases. The discovery is reported June 9 in the journal Nature, where it is featured on the cover. Amyloid fibrils, rope-like structures formed by linked protein molecules, are the common feature of these diseases and may well hold important clues to these diseases, said David Eisenberg, director of the UCLA-DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and a member of the research team. Eisenberg and his colleagues report in Nature the three-dimensional structure of a small piece of a fibril-forming protein from yeast that behaves similarly to proteins involved in Alzheimer's and these other diseases. Knowledge of the structure of this small peptide -- known by the code of its amino acids, GNNQQNY -- reveals a surprising "molecular zipper" that Eisenberg described as "pathologically dry."

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