To help identify the etiological agents for amyloid-related diseases, attention is focused here on the fibrillar precursors, also called oligomers and protofibrils, and on modeling the reaction kinetics of the formation of the amyloid nucleus. Insulin is a favored model for amyloid formation, not only because amyloidosis can be a problem in diabetes, but also because aggregation and fibrillation causes problems during production, storage, and delivery. Small angle neutron scattering (SANS) is used to measure the temporal formation of insulin oligomers in H(2)O- and D(2)O-based solvents and obtain consistent evidence of the composition of the insulin nucleus that comprised three dimers or six monomers similar to that recently proposed in the literature. A simple molecular structural model that describes the growth of oligomers under a wide range of environmental conditions is proposed. The model first involves lengthening or end-on-end association of dimers to form three-dimer nuclei, and then exhibits broadening or side-on-side association of nuclei. Using different additives to demonstrate their influence on the kinetics of oligomer formation, we showed that, although the time required to form the nucleus was dependent on a specific system, they all followed a universal pathway for nucleus and precursor formation. The methods and analyses presented here provide the first experimental molecular size description of the details of amyloid nucleus formation and subsequent propagation to fibril precursors independent of kinetics.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.