Applications of of statistical mechanics in the study of Alzheimer's disease.

A collaborative research by:
Center for Polymer Studies
Massachusetts General Hospital


Alzheimer disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The exact causes of the disease are unknown. The symptoms are familiar: loss of memory and other cognitive functions and eventually loss of control of bodily functions. The most obvious change in the brain of Alzheimer's disease patients is the loss of neurons. In addition, Alzheimer's victims have formations of senile plaques and neurofibrilary tangles, neither of which is present in normal brains.

In a collaborative research between physicists from the Center for Polymer Studies at Boston University and neurologists from the Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers are studying immunostained pictures of senile plaques, neuronal bodies, dendrites and tangles, taken by confocal microscope. The pictures are then analyzed using methods of statistical physics. The overall purpose of the research is to find out the mechanisms of the growth of senile plaques, to understand how the neuronal architecture is altered in the disease, and to quantify changes in the geometry of dendrites as compared to the dendrites in the cortex of healthy brains.

New experimental advances applied to the understanding of the molecular origin of Alzheimer's disease have pointed to important clues that implicate small molecular assemblies of the protein Ab in neuronal impairment and later death. Using tools derived from computational physics, researchers from the Center for Polymer Studies are studying the initial stages of Ab aggregation that may lead to the formation of the toxic oligomers. The endpoint of their research is to investigate the oligomer topology and 3D composition in order to aid in drug development to target oligomer formation.

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Last updated October 23, 2003