Monday, November 3, 2014

Protein Mechanism in Neurodegenerative Diseases


Huntingtin, the abnormal protein that produces clumps characteristic of Huntington disease (HD), can spread from one neuron to another. That's what a recent study has uncovered. Because such protein clumping is observed in other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer disease (AD) and Parkinson disease (PD), some scientists hope that understanding this newly discovered mechanism of transmission within brain tissue may lead to possible treatments or preventive strategies.

If you want to read more about it, check out the resources I've provided below.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • This information can help us answer those pesky "why do we need to know all this if I'm going to be a [insert health profession here]?" challenges when covering the details of protein structure.  The sequence of amino acids and the complex folded structure of proteins really does have real-world clinical implications.  And is already becoming necessary to understand disease mechanisms and treatment strategies.  In real life!
  • Discussing the basic idea of this discovery provides a starting platform from which we can jump into discussions of 
    • Degeneration of tissues in general and neurodegeneration in particular
    • Why neurodegeneration in specific brain locations produces specific neural deficits
    • Prions and their possible roles in various disorders
    • The possible roles of genetic mechanisms in neurodegenerative disorders
    • The need to know details about protein structure (see item above)
    • Current directions in medical research—that proteins are hot!

Want to know more?

Neurodegeneration’s Spread

  • Ashley P. Taylor. The Scientist. August 4, 2014
  • Plain-English article describing the new research showing that pathogenic protein aggregates that accumulate within neurons and are a hallmark of Huntington’s disease can propagate from cell to cell.

Transneuronal propagation of mutant huntingtin contributes to non-cell autonomous pathology in neurons

  • E. Pecho-Vrieseling et al., Nature Neuroscience, 13 July 2014, doi:10.1038/nn.3761, 2014.
  • The original research article.

Huntington disease

  • PubMed Health. last reviewed 28 May 2013
  • Basic information about HD.

Why Bother with Protein Folding?

  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. 22 May 2012.
  • Further discussion of why protein folding is important in the undergrad A&P course; includes links to other resources.

Want to Fold Some Proteins?

  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. 13 June 2012.
  • Introduction of the Foldit game that allows anyone to participate in protein-folding research by playing an online folding game.

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