Fluorescent sensors 'light up' misfolded proteins in the brain

Wednesday, 03 April, 2024

Fluorescent sensors 'light up' misfolded proteins in the brain

Australian scientists have developed a new way to detect neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, by ‘lighting up’ clusters of misfolded proteins in the brain. Their work has been published in the journal ACS Sensors.

In Alzheimer’s disease, protein clusters known as amyloids accumulate to abnormally high levels in the brain. Distinct amyloids have been associated with the onset of multiple neurodegenerative diseases; as such, the swift detection and recognition of different amyloids in the brain is crucial for early diagnosis of amyloid-related neurodegenerative diseases.

“Alzheimer’s is an irreversible neurodegenerative disorder; however, there are many advantages to early detection, including enhanced medical attention, management of symptoms and, hopefully, future treatments that will be able to target the disease in its earliest stages, before irreversible brain damage or cognitive decline has occurred,” said Dr Amandeep Kaur from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS).

Kaur said that although there are several methods for detection of amyloids, they are far from perfect and there is a lot of work to be done to develop methods for earlier and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Seeking a solution to this pressing need, Kaur collaborated with Professors Elizabeth New and Margaret Sunde from The University of Sydney, bringing together their expertise in chemistry, fluorescent sensors and amyloid biology.

“Our team focused on developing a versatile fluorescent sensor array for amyloids to monitor Alzheimer’s and other disease progression and to distinguish these disease-associated amyloids from similar, naturally occurring amyloids that play functional roles,” Kaur explained.

The team reported that their sensors were able to correctly differentiate between different amyloids associated with neurodegenerative diseases, enabling them to monitor disease progression. They also tested the sensors’ performance on samples taken from the brains of mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and observed that the fluorescence patterns differed between early (at age six months) and later (at age 12 months) stages of the disease.

“It is our hope [that] this method, using an array of sensors that can light up amyloids, could be used as a tool for researchers to help distinguish between many different types of amyloids and could inform new strategies for early and decisive diagnosis of amyloid-related diseases,” Kaur said.

Image credit: iStock.com/Dr_Microbe

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