Structural evolution and membrane interactions of Alzheimer's amyloid-beta peptide oligomers: New knowledge from single-molecule fluorescence studies

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Amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) oligomers may represent the proximal neurotoxin in Alzheimer's disease. Single-molecule microscopy (SMM) techniques have recently emerged as a method for overcoming the innate difficulties of working with amyloid-β, including the peptide's low endogenous concentrations, the dynamic nature of its oligomeric states, and its heterogeneous and complex membrane interactions. SMM techniques have revealed that small oligomers of the peptide bind to model membranes and cells at low nanomolar-to-picomolar concentrations and diffuse at rates dependent on the membrane characteristics. These methods have also shown that oligomers grow or dissociate based on the presence of specific inhibitors or promoters and on the ratio of Aβ40 to Aβ42. Here, we discuss several types of single-molecule imaging that have been applied to the study of Aβ oligomers and their membrane interactions. We also summarize some of the recent insights SMM has provided into oligomer behavior in solution, on planar lipid membranes, and on living cell membranes. A brief overview of the current limitations of the technique, including the lack of sensitive assays for Aβ-induced toxicity, is included in hopes of inspiring future development in this area of research.

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