Antibodies are large proteins produced by the immune system to combat infection and disease. They are comprised of a large Y-shaped protein topped with small peptide loops that bind to harmful invaders in the body, such as a viruses or bacteria.
Once an antibody is bound to its target, the immune system sends cells to destroy the invader, and finding the right antibody can determine the difference between death and recovery, Peter Tessier, assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said.
Only a very specific combination of antibody loops will bind to and neutralize each target, and with billions of different possible loop arrangements and sequences it seems impossible to predict which antibody loops will bind to a specific target molecule, Tessier said.
In his research, he uses the same molecular interactions that cause the Alzheimer's proteins to stick together and form the toxic particles that are a hallmark of the disease.
"We are actually exploiting the same protein interactions that cause the disease in the brain to mediate binding of antibodies to toxic Alzheimer's protein particles," Tessier said.
The Alzheimer's antibodies developed by Tessier and his colleagues only latched on to the harmful clumped proteins and not the harmless monomers or single peptides that are not associated with disease.
In the long term, the findings might help develop new drugs to combat Alzheimer's disease, Tessier said.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.