Nucleation-dependent polymerization is an essential component of amyloid-mediated neuronal cell death

Mark Wogulis, Sarah Wright, Damian Cunningham, Tamie Chilcote, Kyle Powell, Russell E. Rydel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


Accumulating evidence suggests that amyloid protein aggregation is pathogenic in many diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. However, the mechanisms by which protein aggregation mediates cellular dysfunction and overt cell death are unknown. Recent reports have focused on the potential role of amyloid oligomers or protofibrils as a neurotoxic form of amyloid-β (Aβ) and related amyloid aggregates. Here we describe studies indicating that overt neuronal cell death mediated by Aβ1-40 is critically dependent on ongoing Aβ1-40 polymerization and is not mediated by a single stable species of neurotoxic aggregate. The extent and rate of neuronal cell death can be controlled by conditions that alter the rate of Aβ polymerization. The results presented here indicate that protofibrils and oligomeric forms of Aβ most likely generate neuronal cell death through a nucleation-dependent process rather than acting as direct neurotoxic ligands. These findings bring into question the use of the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)- 2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide formazan assay (MTT assay) as a reporter of Aβ-mediated neuronal cell death and suggest that diffusible Aβ protofibrils and oligomers more likely mediate subtle alterations of synaptic function and long-term potentiation rather than overt neuronal cell death. These results have been extended to Aβ1-42, the non-Aβ component of Alzheimer's disease amyloid plaques, and human amylin, suggesting that nucleation-dependent polymerization is a common mechanism of amyloid-mediated neuronal cell death. Our findings indicate that ongoing amyloid fibrillogenesis may be an essential mechanistic process underlying the pathogenesis associated with protein aggregation in amyloid disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1071-1080
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2 2005


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyloid-β
  • Amyloidogenic proteins
  • Neuronal cell death
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Nucleation-dependent polymerization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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