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Published: 18 Dec, 2020

Manufactures molecules that attach to misfolded proteins

NEWS Dan Adolfsson has manufactured synthetic molecules that bind to so-called amyloid plaques, which are found in the brains of patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. This can disrupt the processes that lead to the death of certain brain cells. Dan Adolfsson defended the results in his thesis on Friday 18 September at Umeå University.

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

The human body contains over 30,000 different proteins, many of which have vital functions to fulfill. Proteins are long chains of different amino acids and for a protein to work properly in the body, the chain must be folded into the right structure. But sometimes it goes wrong, and some misfolded proteins can clump together and form so-called amyloid plaques.

Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are neurodegenerative diseases that have serious consequences. Nerve cells in the brain die as the diseases slowly spread and the sufferers lose vital functions such as memory and motor skills, and eventually the patients die. Although Alzheimer's disease has been known for 100 years, and Parkinson's disease for 200 years, there are currently no ways to cure any of the diseases. The treatments that are available can relieve the symptoms and in some cases delay the processes.

It is not known exactly what triggers the deadly disease processes or why nerve cells in the brain die. What the researchers know is that fibers are formed from misfolded proteins and that these fiber-forming proteins in some way play a central role in the disease processes. In patients with Alzheimer's disease, a protein called amyloid beta is involved. In Parkinson's disease, it is instead the protein alpha-synuclein that haunts.

The work that Dan Adolfsson presents in his thesis is about synthetically producing a kind of small molecules that can bind to amyloid plaques. The molecules bind specifically to alpha-synuclein and amyloid-beta fibers, respectively, and can disrupt the biomolecular processes that lead to the death of nerve cells.

“The synthetic molecules could be used as tools to learn more about Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and understand the causes and mechanisms that cause the brain cells involved to die. The molecules may also be developed to diagnose these diseases. They also have a therapeutic potential as they also inhibit the toxic function of the aggregating proteins” says Dan Adolfsson.

Dan Adolfsson was born and raised in Hjo, Sweden, and has attended the science programme at Fågelviksgymnasiet in Tibro. He has studied the master's programme chemical biology at Linköping University and holds a doctorate in organic chemistry at Umeå University.

Read the thesis

Press image. Photo: Åke Adolfsson

About the dissertation: On Friday 18 September, Dan Adolfsson, Department of Chemistry at Umeå University, defended his dissertation entitled: Synthesis of Ring-fused Peptidomimetics Interacting with Amyloid Fibrils. The dissertation took place at 9:00 in Glasburen, KBC-huset, Umeå University. The dissertation was defended in English. The faculty opponent was Morten Grøtli, Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Gothenburg.