Study leader Peter Tessier of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and colleagues say the compound -- resveratrol -- has shown the ability to target and neutralize certain proteins related to Alzheimer's disease but leave others alone.
The findings, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, suggest resveratrol somehow discerns structural differences between protein packing variants called peptide isoforms.
The research team generated five unique isoforms -- three were toxic to human cells and two were not. Next, the researchers introduced resveratrol.
The resveratrol reacted with the toxic arrangements and resulted in the toxicity being neutralized. However, the non-toxic arrangements remained unaffected.
"The surprise is that this molecule can target some of these packing arrangements that are toxic and rearrange them into packing arrangements that are not toxic," Tessier says in a statement. "For those forms that are non-toxic, it doesn't change them."
The point, Tessier concludes, is that the seemingly identical non-toxic and toxic arrangements must have some distinguishing feature yet to be discovered, raising questions for future study.