McKelvey School

‘Blink’ and you won’t miss amyloids

Engineering team just found new way to see proteins that cause Alzheimer’s, other diseases

From the WashU Newsroom

Tiny protein structures called amyloids are key to understanding certain devastating age-related diseases. Aggregates, or sticky clumped-up amyloids, form plaques in the brain, and are the main culprits in the progression of Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Amyloids are so tiny that they can’t be visualized using conventional microscopic techniques. A team of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis has developed a new technique that uses temporary fluorescence, causing the amyloids to flash, or “blink,” and allowing researchers to better spot these problematic proteins.

“It has been pretty difficult, finding a way to image them in a non-invasive way — not changing the way they come together — and also figuring out a way to image them long-term to see how they clump and form larger structures,” said Matthew Lew, assistant professor in the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “That was the focus of our research.”

Currently, scientists seeking to visualize amyloids use large amounts of a fluorescent material to coat the proteins in a test tube. When using a fluorescence microscope, the amyloids glow. However, it isn’t known how dyes that are permanently attached might alter the basic structure and behavior of the amyloid. It’s also difficult to discern the nanoscale structures at play using this bulk experimental technique.

  Watch the video and read more at the Source.