Generic hydrophobic residues are sufficient to promote aggregation of the Alzheimer's Aβ42 peptide

Woojin Kim, Michael H. Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


One hundred years ago, Alois Alzheimer observed a relationship between cognitive impairment and the presence of plaque in the brains of patients suffering from the disease that bears his name. The plaque was subsequently shown to be composed primarily of a 42-residue peptide called amyloid β (Aβ) 42. Despite the importance of Aβ42 aggregation in the molecular etiology of Alzheimer's disease, the amino acid sequence determinants of this process have yet to be elucidated. Although stretches of hydrophobic residues in the C-terminal half of Aβ42 have been implicated, the mechanism by which these residues promote aggregation remains unclear. In particular, it is not known whether the side chains of these hydrophobic residues mediate specific interactions that direct self-assembly or, alternatively, whether hydrophobicity per se at these positions is sufficient to promote aggregation. To distinguish between these two possibilities, we substituted 12 hydrophobic residues in the C-terminal half of Aβ42 with random nonpolar residues. The mutant sequences were screened by using a fusion of Aβ42 to GFP. Because aggregation of Aβ42 prevents folding of the GFP reporter, this screen readily distinguishes aggregating from nonaggregating variants of Aβ42. Application of the screen demonstrated that, despite the presence of 8-12 mutations, all of the sequences aggregated. To confirm these results, several of the mutant sequences were prepared as synthetic peptides and shown to form amyloid fibrils similar to those of WT Aβ42. These findings indicate that hydrophobic stretches in the sequence of Aβ42, rather than specific side chains, are sufficient to promote aggregation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15824-15829
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 24 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Amyloid fibrils
  • Binary code
  • GFP fusion
  • NTN codon
  • Protein misfolding


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