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Mitigating protein aggregation to reduce the toxicity inherent to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases

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Limbocker, Ryan Alexander 


Protein deposition in the form of amyloid fibrils is the hallmark of more than 40 human pathologies, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Misfolded protein oligomers formed as intermediates during the aggregation process have been strongly implicated in the onset and progression of these diseases. In this thesis, I describe our efforts to uncover molecular agents that can reduce the toxicity caused by protein aggregation via targeting the generation, the physiochemical properties or the membrane affinity of oligomeric species. We employed an integrative approach combining in vitro techniques, including chemical kinetics, atomic force microscopy, and biophysical measurements, and in vivo methods, including neuroblastoma cells and C. elegans models of AD and PD, to identify a range of small molecules and antibodies that can suppress the toxicity related to protein aggregation through a variety of mechanisms. In Chapter 3, we show that the deleterious effects of protein aggregation can be suppressed in AD and PD worms by interfering with the aggregation rates of the amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) and the α-synuclein protein (αS). In Chapter 4, we resolve the mechanism of action for a molecule that enhances the rate of Aβ42 aggregation in AD worms with the result that toxicity is reduced, and find that it potentiates the secondary nucleation microscopic step in vitro. In Chapter 5, we characterize molecules and antibodies that modify the physiochemical properties and self-association of oligomers comprised of several proteins into clusters with reduced diffusibility. In Chapter 6, we classify a family of molecules that protect the cell by displacing several types of oligomeric species from the membrane through a generic mechanism. These results demonstrate strategies by which one can target the aggregation process to alter its resulting toxicity, provide insight into modifying the properties of the most deleterious species associated with protein aggregation and suggest that the protection of the cell from the oligomer-induced cytotoxicity associated with numerous protein misfolding diseases is a promising strategy to combat protein misfolding diseases.





Dobson, Christopher Martin


Protein aggregation, Protein misfolded oligomers, Mechanisms of toxicity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust