Doctors don't yet understand whether amyloids cause disease or result from it, but the fact that they are present in very different diseases affecting millions of people points to the need for improved understanding of the basic processes of protein folding, one of the most complicated and least understood of all biological phenomena.
Research appearing in the Oct. 8 issue of the Journal of Molecular Biology, describes a new technique that may help scientists predict which proteins are prone to misfold and at what point the folding process is likely to break down. The research could support efforts to find the causes for diseases involving amyloids, and it could prove useful for researchers studying proteins involved in even more prevalent diseases like cancer and heart disease.
"We know now that most diseases involve proteins going wrong in one of two ways," said lead researcher Cecilia Clementi, assistant professor of chemistry at Rice University. "In the first, proteins don't function correctly because they fold into the wrong shape. This is something we see in sickle-cell anemia, for instance, because of genetic flaws that cause the amino acid sequence to be incorrectly synthesized.
"The second way proteins go wrong is by not folding at all, which is what we find in diseases involving amyloids. In these situations, the misfolded proteins assemble together into macroscopic aggregates."
All the basic functions of life are carried out by proteins, and the DNA in each of our cells contains the blueprints for all the proteins we need. Every protein has a characteri
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