Not a Bug?

As someone who studies the abnormal aggregation of proteins into amyloids, which are responsible for certain neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease,  I was very interested by the new idea that a certain point in the evolutionary history of proteins, the amyloid form was a feature, not a bug. That is, amyloids today are very dangerous because they are self catalyzing: a fibril acts as a template – like a seed crystal – that allows other proteins to attach. This destroys the normal function of the protein (which depends on its shape) and creates these self-reproducing, and potentially toxic, fibrils. Usually, aggregation can only get started when proteins are denatured, and lose their native shape to expose their “sticky” hydrophobic cores. However, if the amyloids once had a function as enzymes, it might be possible that they were an early evolutionary incarnation of life. In that case, rapid self-catalysis would be an evolutionary adaptive trait!

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Author: lnemzer

Assistant Professor Nova Southeastern University

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