Proliferation of amyloid-beta 42 aggregates occurs through a secondary nucleation mechanism

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The generation of toxic oligomers during the aggregation of the amyloid-beta (A beta) peptide A beta 42 into amyloid fibrils and plaques has emerged as a central feature of the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease, but the molecular pathways that control pathological aggregation have proved challenging to identify. Here, we use a combination of kinetic studies, selective radiolabeling experiments, and cell viability assays to detect directly the rates of formation of both fibrils and oligomers and the resulting cytotoxic effects. Our results show that once a small but critical concentration of amyloid fibrils has accumulated, the toxic oligomeric species are predominantly formed from monomeric peptide molecules through a fibril-catalyzed secondary nucleation reaction, rather than through a classical mechanism of homogeneous primary nucleation. This catalytic mechanism couples together the growth of insoluble amyloid fibrils and the generation of diffusible oligomeric aggregates that are implicated as neurotoxic agents in Alzheimer's disease. These results reveal that the aggregation of A beta 42 is promoted by a positive feedback loop that originates from the interactions between the monomeric and fibrillar forms of this peptide. Our findings bring together the main molecular species implicated in the A beta aggregation cascade and suggest that perturbation of the secondary nucleation pathway identified in this study could be an effective strategy to control the proliferation of neurotoxic A beta 42 oligomers.


  • Samuel I. A. Cohen
  • Sara Linse
  • Leila M. Luheshi
  • Erik Hellstrand
  • Duncan A. White
  • Luke Rajah
  • Daniel E. Otzen
  • Michele Vendruscolo
  • Christopher M. Dobson
  • Tuomas P. J. Knowles
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Chemistry


  • chemical kinetics, molecular mechanisms, protein misfolding, neurodegeneration
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9758-9763
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch