Atomic View of a Toxic Amyloid Small Oligomer

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1228-1231
DOI: 10.1126/science.1213151

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A Toxic Barrel

Many studies have suggested that oligomers are an important toxic species in amyloid diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. In an effort to better define these oligomers, Laganowsky et al. (p. 1228) identified a segment of the fibril-forming protein αB crystalline (ABC) that forms both amyloid fibrils and a relatively stable oligomer. ABC oligomers were toxic in a cell viability assay and were recognized by an amyloid-oligomer–specific antibody. A crystal structure of the oligomers showed that six peptides formed an antiparallel barrel termed a cylindrin. Amyloid oligomers are likely to be structurally polymorphic, but cylindrin-like assemblies offer a model for these elusive structures.


Amyloid diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the prion conditions, are each associated with a particular protein in fibrillar form. These amyloid fibrils were long suspected to be the disease agents, but evidence suggests that smaller, often transient and polymorphic oligomers are the toxic entities. Here, we identify a segment of the amyloid-forming protein αB crystallin, which forms an oligomeric complex exhibiting properties of other amyloid oligomers: β-sheet–rich structure, cytotoxicity, and recognition by an oligomer-specific antibody. The x-ray–derived atomic structure of the oligomer reveals a cylindrical barrel, formed from six antiparallel protein strands, that we term a cylindrin. The cylindrin structure is compatible with a sequence segment from the β-amyloid protein of Alzheimer’s disease. Cylindrins offer models for the hitherto elusive structures of amyloid oligomers.

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