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Editor's e-Note
Researchers are exploring the energy landscape associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The energy landscape maps the energies and structures of proteins that originate as chains of amino acids. A recent study is the first to examine the aggregation of pathogenic protein into toxic form.

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— Barbara Worthington, editor
e-News Exclusive
Computer Simulations Explore How Alzheimer’s Disease Starts

A new Rice University study uses computer simulations to explore the initial steps of the molecular process that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease starts by the aggregation of a common protein called amyloid beta. The Rice study is the first to model the energy landscape of the assembly of many copies of the pathogenic protein into its toxic form. The research, led by Peter Wolynes, PhD, of Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, is detailed in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wolynes and his team are pioneers in the development of the energy landscape theory for proteins. All proteins begin as chains of amino acids with their sequences determined by DNA, and each arrangement of the chain has a particular energy associated with it. The map of these energies and structures is called the energy landscape.

For most proteins, the energy landscape guides the protein to fold into its useful functional shape. Wolynes and his colleagues developed a computer program, AWSEM (associative memory, water mediated, structure and energy model) that simulates the process and can predict the most important functional structures.

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