Alzheimer's disease is characterised by loss of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex and certain subcortical regions. This loss results in gross atrophy of the affected regions, including degeneration in the temporal lobe and parietal lobe, and parts of the frontal cortex and cingulate gyrus.
Alzheimer's disease has been identified as a protein misfolding disease (proteopathy), caused by accumulation of abnormally folded A-beta and tau proteins in the brain. Plaques are made up of small peptides, 39–43 amino acids in length, called beta-amyloid (also written as A-beta or Aβ). Beta-amyloid is a fragment from a larger protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP), a transmembrane protein that penetrates through the neuron's membrane. APP is critical to neuron growth, survival and post-injury repair.
In Alzheimer's disease, an unknown process causes APP to be divided into smaller fragments by enzymes through proteolysis. One of these fragments gives rise to fibrils of beta-amyloid, which form clumps that deposit outside neurons in dense formations known as senile plaques.
The mechanism by which the brain cells in Parkinson's are lost may consist of an abnormal accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein bound to ubiquitin in the damaged cells. The alpha-synuclein-ubiquitin complex cannot be directed to the proteosome. This protein accumulation forms proteinaceous cytoplasmic inclusions called Lewy bodies.
The latest research on pathogenesis of disease has shown that the death of dopaminergic neurons by alpha-synuclein is due to a defect in the machinery that transports proteins between two major cellular organelles — the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi apparatus. Certain proteins like Rab1 may reverse this defect caused by alpha-synuclein in animal models.
Recent research suggests that impaired axonal transport of alpha-synuclein leads to its accumulation in the Lewy bodies. Experiments have revealed reduced transport rates of both wild-type and two familial
Parkinson’s disease-associated mutant alpha-synucleins through axons of cultured neurons and loss of medium spiny neurons Areas of the brain are affected according to their structure and the types of neurons they contain, reducing in size as they cumulatively lose cells.
The areas affected are mainly in the striatum, but also the frontal and temporal cortices. The striatum's subthalamic nuclei send control signals to the globus pallidus, which initiates and modulates motion. The weaker signals from subthalamic nuclei thus cause reduced initiation and modulation of movement, resulting in the characteristic movements of the disorder.
Mutant Huntingtin is an aggregate-prone protein. During the cells' natural clearance process, these proteins are retrogradely transported to the cell body for destruction by lysosomes. It is a possibility that these mutant protein aggregates damage the retrograde transport of important cargoes such as BDNF by damaging molecular motors as well as microtubules and Di Giorgio et al. provide ''in vitro'' evidence that the primary cellular sites where SOD1 mutations act are located on astrocytes. Astrocytes then cause the toxic effects on the motor neurons.
The specific mechanism of toxicity still needs to be investigated, but the findings are significant because they implicate cells other than neuron cells in neurodegeneration.
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