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High Levels of Toxic Protein May Actually Protect Against Brain Disease

Update Date: Jul 02, 2013 12:58 PM EDT

Low levels of toxic protein has been linked to brain diseases.  Researchers found that low levels of amyloid proteins may actually cause more harm to health than high levels.

Researchers from the latest study may provide new insight into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

Researchers said amyloid fibers, which have been linked with dozens of diseases, are produced as a result of a genetic flaw or changes in body chemistry brought on by aging.

Researchers said that these genetic flaws cause short fibers to form.  These threat-link chains of protein then become sticky and attract copies of themselves, forming an endless chain.  Sometimes these chains spontaneously break and create more filament ends to which more proteins attach.

When it comes to neurodegenerative diseases, researchers say these short, broken pieces appear to be the most harmful.

Lead researcher Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, and her team found that when proteins levels are low, lots of short protein threads are formed.  However, when protein levels are high, this spontaneous breakage stops and most protein filaments remain long.

Researchers say long fibers to not appear to be as damaging as short protein fibers.  In fact, researchers believe that high levels of the protein, which lead to longer chains, may actually be protective.

Besides providing insight on disease, researchers believe the findings may also help them develop useful biomaterials, such as cell scaffolds, which are used for tissue engineering or to make artificial silk.

"We would expect that the higher the level of toxins, the worse the disease. However, in this study we found that the lower the level of the protein, the more of these damaging short fibers we see," MacPhee said in a news release.

"Understanding how these protein chains form offers us insight not only into how diseases progress, but how we can produce controlled biomaterials for tissue engineering," she added.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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