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Neutrons provide first sub-nanoscale snapshots of Huntington's disease protein
Date:5/18/2011

begin to learn more and more about the nature of these aggregates and how they begin forming."

Normal huntingtin contains a region of 10 to 20 glutamine amino acids in succession. However, the DNA of Huntington's disease patients encodes for 37 or more glutamines, causing instability in huntingtin fragments that contain this abnormally long glutamine repeat. Consequentially, the mutant protein fragment cannot be degraded normally and instead forms deposits of fibrils in neurons.

Those deposits, or clumps, were originally seen as the cause of the devastation that ensues in the brain. More recently researchers think the clumping may actually be a kind of biological housecleaning, an attempt by the brain cells to clean out these toxic proteins from places where they are destructive. Stanley and Berthelier set out to learn through neutron scattering what the toxic proteins were and when and where they occurred.

At the HFIR Bio-SANS instrument, the neutron beam comes through a series of mirrors that focus it on the sample. The neutrons interact with the sample, providing data on its atomic structure, and then the neutrons scatter, to be picked up by a detector. From the data the detector sends of the scattering pattern, researchers can deduce at a scale of less than billionths of a meter the size and shape of the diseased, aggregating protein, at each time-step along its growth pathway.

SANS was able to distinguish the small peptide aggregates in the sample solution from the rapidly forming and growing larger aggregates that are simultaneously present. In separate experiments, they were able to monitor the disappearance of the single peptides, as well as the formation of the mature fibrils.

Now that they know the structures, the hope is to develop drugs that can counteract the toxic properties in the early stages, or dissuade them from taking the path to toxicity. "The next step would be, let's take drug molecules and see how
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Contact: Bill Cabage
cabagewh@ornl.gov
865-574-4399
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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