Mechanistic Models of Protein Aggregation Across Length-Scales and Time-Scales: From the Test Tube to Neurodegenerative Disease.

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Knowles, Tuomas PJ 
Klenerman, David 

Through advances in the past decades, the central role of aberrant protein aggregation has been established in many neurodegenerative diseases. Crucially, however, the molecular mechanisms that underlie aggregate proliferation in the brains of affected individuals are still only poorly understood. Under controlled in vitro conditions, significant progress has been made in elucidating the molecular mechanisms that take place during the assembly of purified protein molecules, through advances in both experimental methods and the theories used to analyse the resulting data. The determination of the aggregation mechanism for a variety of proteins revealed the importance of intermediate oligomeric species and of the interactions with promotors and inhibitors. Such mechanistic insights, if they can be achieved in a disease-relevant system, provide invaluable information to guide the design of potential cures to these devastating disorders. However, as experimental systems approach the situation present in real disease, their complexity increases substantially. Timescales increase from hours an aggregation reaction takes in vitro, to decades over which the process takes place in disease, and length-scales increase to the dimension of a human brain. Thus, molecular level mechanistic studies, like those that successfully determined mechanisms in vitro, have only been applied in a handful of living systems to date. If their application can be extended to further systems, including patient data, they promise powerful new insights. Here we present a review of the existing strategies to gain mechanistic insights into the molecular steps driving protein aggregation and discuss the obstacles and potential paths to achieving their application in disease. First, we review the experimental approaches and analysis techniques that are used to establish the aggregation mechanisms in vitro and the insights that have been gained from them. We then discuss how these approaches must be modified and adapted to be applicable in vivo and review the existing works that have successfully applied mechanistic analysis of protein aggregation in living systems. Finally, we present a broad mechanistic classification of in vivo systems and discuss what will be required to further our understanding of aggregate formation in living systems.

amyloid, chemical kinetics, in vivo models, mechanistic models, neurodegenerative disease, protein aggregation
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Front Neurosci
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Frontiers Media SA