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Understanding Dementia using Antibodies

We are based at the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London. Our research focuses on the development of biomolecules as research tools to understand disease mechanisms, and for clinical applications.
We use innovative high-throughput discovery methods to generate antibodies and peptides to study how the complex environment of the nervous system chemically modifies and modulates protein aggregates, called amyloids, which are a hallmark of many forms of dementia.


Heterogeneous Primary Nucleation

J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2023, 145, 33, 18276–18285

An increasing number of cases where amyloids of different proteins are found in the same patient are being reported. This observation complicates diagnosis and clinical intervention. Amyloids of the amyloid-β peptide or the protein α-synuclein are traditionally considered hallmarks of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, respectively. However, the co-occurrence of amyloids of these proteins has also been reported in patients diagnosed with either disease. Here, we show that soluble species containing amyloid-β can induce the aggregation of α-synuclein. Fibrils formed under these conditions are solely composed of α-synuclein to which amyloid-β can be found associated but not as part of the core of the fibrils. Importantly, by global kinetic analysis, we found that the aggregation of α-synuclein under these conditions occurs via heterogeneous primary nucleation, triggered by soluble aggregates containing amyloid-β.

Chemical Mutagenesis of Aggregation-Prone Proteins

ACS Chem. Neurosci. (2022)

Neurodegenerative diseases are a class of disorders linked to the formation in the nervous system of fibrillar protein aggregates called amyloids. This aggregation process is affected by a variety of post-translational modifications, whose specific mechanisms are not fully understood yet. Emerging chemical mutagenesis technology is currently striving to address the challenge of introducing protein post-translational modifications, while maintaining the stability and solubility of the proteins during the modification reaction. Several amyloidogenic proteins are highly aggregation-prone, and current modification procedures can lead to unexpected precipitation of these proteins, affecting their yield and downstream characterization. Here, we present a method for maintaining amyloidogenic protein solubility during chemical mutagenesis. As proof-of-principle, we applied our method to mimic the phosphorylation of serine-26 and the acetylation of lysine-28 of the 40-residue long variant of amyloid-β peptide, whose aggregation is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Protein N-terminal Truncation

Front. Neurosci. (2022)

α-Synuclein is a key protein of the nervous system, which regulates the release and recycling of neurotransmitters in the synapses. It is also involved in several neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and Multiple System Atrophy, where it forms toxic aggregates. The N-terminus of α-synuclein is of particular interest as it has been linked to both the physiological and pathological functions of the protein and undergoes post-translational modification. One such modification, N-terminal truncation, affects the aggregation propensity of the protein in vitro and is also found in aggregates from patients’ brains. To date, our understanding of the role of this modification has been limited by the many challenges of introducing biologically relevant N-terminal truncations with no overhanging starting methionine. Here, we present a method to produce N-terminally truncated variants of α-synuclein that do not carry extra terminal residues. We show that our method can generate highly pure protein to facilitate the study of this modification and its role in physiology and disease. Thanks to this method, we have determined that the first six residues of α-synuclein play an important role in the formation of the amyloids.

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Antibody Discovery

PNAS (2020) 117 (24), 13509-13518.

The accurate quantification of the amounts of small oligomeric assemblies formed by the amyloid β (Aβ) peptide represents a major challenge in the Alzheimer’s field. There is therefore great interest in the development of methods to specifically detect these oligomers by distinguishing them from larger aggregates. The availability of these methods will enable the development of effective diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for this and other diseases related to protein misfolding and aggregation. We describe here a single-domain antibody able to selectively quantify oligomers of the Aβ peptide in isolation and in complex protein mixtures from animal models of disease.

Protein Aggregation and Detection

Int. J. Mol. Sci. (2021) 22(8), 4128

Neurodegenerative disorders are a highly prevalent class of diseases, whose pathological mechanisms start before the appearance of any clear symptoms. This fact has prompted scientists to search for biomarkers that could aid early treatment. These currently incurable pathologies share the presence of aberrant aggregates called amyloids in the nervous system, which are composed of specific proteins. In this review, we discuss how these proteins, their conformations and modifications could be exploited as biomarkers for diagnostic purposes. We focus on proteins that are associated with the most prevalent neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and frontotemporal dementia. We also describe current challenges in detection, the most recent techniques with diagnostic potentials and possible future developments in diagnosis.

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