Chemical reactions as the key to understanding Alzheimer’s disease – „Science Advances“ publication
Research teams from TU Darmstadt, British and US universities are focusing on one possible main process that leads to the death of brain cells – chemical reactions between different proteins in the brain and essential metals such as copper and iron – in their investigation of the causes and mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. Their results are published in „Science Advances“.
Alzheimer’s disease causes tremendous loss of life years and life quality. Tens of millions of people worldwide have this disease, and this number increases every year.
The physical hallmark of the disease is the formation of small deposits of insoluble protein – known as amyloid – in the brain of patients; however, therapies that stop the formation of these deposits have failed to prevent disease progression. This indicates that these deposits might be a side effect rather than the cause of the disease.
In recent years, it has been suggested that the main process that kills brain cells might involve chemical reactions between certain proteins in the brain and essential metals such as copper and iron.
Professor Dr. Frederik Lermyte from the Department of Chemistry at TU Darmstadt and Scientists from the University of Warwick, Keele University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Case Western Reserve University have now used a range of techniques to study this, including mass spectrometry and X-ray microscopy. They found that, in addition to the normal water-soluble forms of these metals, the amyloid deposits in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease contain nanoparticles made of metallic copper and iron, which do not have any known role in human biology.
It is likely that the chemical reactions that result in the formation of these metals create reactive oxygen species that are toxic to brain cells. This potentially provides an important clue about the mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease, and future therapies could be developed to intervene in this process.
James Everett, Frederik Lermyte, Jake Brooks, Vindy Tjendana-Tjhin, Germán Plascencia-Villa, Ian Hands-Portman, Jane M. Donnelly, Kharmen Billimoria, George Perry, Xiongwei Zhu, Peter J. Sadler, Peter B. O’Connor, Joanna F. Collingwood and Neil D. Telling: “Biogenic metallic elements in the human brain?” in: Science Advances 09 Jun 2021, Vol. 7, no. 24, eabf6707
About TU Darmstadt
TU Darmstadt is one of Germany’s leading technical universities and a synonym for excellent, relevant research. We are crucially shaping global transformations – from the energy transition via Industry 4.0 to artificial intelligence – with outstanding insights and forward-looking study opportunities.
TU Darmstadt pools its cutting-edge research in three fields: Energy and Environment, Information and Intelligence, Matter and Materials. Our problem-based interdisciplinarity as well as our productive interaction with society, business and politics generate progress towards sustainable development worldwide.
Since we were founded in 1877, we have been one of Germany’s most international universities; as a European technical university, we are developing a trans-European campus in the network, Unite! With our partners in the alliance of Rhine-Main universities – Goethe University Frankfurt and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – we further the development of the metropolitan region Frankfurt-Rhine-Main as a globally attractive science location.
MI-No 46/2021, Lermyte/feu