Another piece in the puzzle on the way to Alzheimer’s medication


The protein molecules form a U-shaped structure which is represented here as two linked ribbons which congregate to form long threads. These molecular threads can form stacks. With the help of high-performance computers, FAU researchers are examining the effect of salts occurring naturally in the body on the stability of protein structures. (Image: FAU)

FAU study uses computer simulation for new insights

Researchers are still not entirely certain what exactly causes Alzheimer’s, although they maintain that deposits of naturally occurring proteins in the brain are paramount to causing the disease. With the aid of computer simulations, Dr. Anselm Horn at the Institute for Bioinformatics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) is currently investigating the effect of various salts found in the body on harmful protein deposits. His study aims to provide new insights into the mechanisms of the various structures of the protein deposits to provide another piece in the puzzle in the search for a medication for Alzheimer’s. The year-long pilot study will receive 3,500 euros in funding from the Alzheimer Forschung Initiative (Alzheimer Research Initiative, AFI).

The naturally-occurring amyloid beta protein is attributed a key role in causing and triggering Alzheimer’s. For reasons that remain unknown, the amyloid beta protein transforms from its usual healthy state and forms harmful deposits or ‘aggregates’. These occur in the human brain in various forms and sizes, ranging from protein molecules to compounds with complex structures. Eventually, these harmful deposits between neural cells in the brain cause the onset of Alzheimer’s. Researchers have already ascertained that these deposits are affected by salts which are found naturally in the human body. At FAU, researchers are working to discover how the stability and form of the aggregates are affected by the concentration and type of the salts.

However, laboratory experiments make it difficult to isolate specific formations as the protein aggregates occur in many different forms and structures at the same time. This is why Dr. Horn is using computer simulations in the study. By using computer simulations, Dr. Horn can select precisely which type of molecule to analyse while investigating its interactions with the salts and the changes this causes. This study is unique as previous research did not use computer simulation to investigate how the protein deposits and salts interact. The computation-intensive simulations are run in parallel on several high-performance computers in the FAU Regional Computer Centre for approximately one month before they are analysed with the help of computers.

The study is funded by the non-profit initiative AFI and is one of six new research projects into Alzheimer’s at universities in Göttingen, Aachen, Bonn, Erlangen-Nürnberg and Munich. The projects cover a wide range of topics in Alzheimer’s research and are set to probe the nature and causes of the terminal disease as well as early and safe diagnosis.

Further information:

Dr. Anselm Horn
Phone: +49 9131 85 24682

Addition information