Aromatic small molecules remodel toxic soluble oligomers of amyloid beta through three independent pathways

J Biol Chem. 2011 Feb 4;286(5):3209-18. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.173856. Epub 2010 Nov 23.


In protein conformational disorders ranging from Alzheimer to Parkinson disease, proteins of unrelated sequence misfold into a similar array of aggregated conformers ranging from small oligomers to large amyloid fibrils. Substantial evidence suggests that small, prefibrillar oligomers are the most toxic species, yet to what extent they can be selectively targeted and remodeled into non-toxic conformers using small molecules is poorly understood. We have evaluated the conformational specificity and remodeling pathways of a diverse panel of aromatic small molecules against mature soluble oligomers of the Aβ42 peptide associated with Alzheimer disease. We find that small molecule antagonists can be grouped into three classes, which we herein define as Class I, II, and III molecules, based on the distinct pathways they utilize to remodel soluble oligomers into multiple conformers with reduced toxicity. Class I molecules remodel soluble oligomers into large, off-pathway aggregates that are non-toxic. Moreover, Class IA molecules also remodel amyloid fibrils into the same off-pathway structures, whereas Class IB molecules fail to remodel fibrils but accelerate aggregation of freshly disaggregated Aβ. In contrast, a Class II molecule converts soluble Aβ oligomers into fibrils, but is inactive against disaggregated and fibrillar Aβ. Class III molecules disassemble soluble oligomers (as well as fibrils) into low molecular weight species that are non-toxic. Strikingly, Aβ non-toxic oligomers (which are morphologically indistinguishable from toxic soluble oligomers) are significantly more resistant to being remodeled than Aβ soluble oligomers or amyloid fibrils. Our findings reveal that relatively subtle differences in small molecule structure encipher surprisingly large differences in the pathways they employ to remodel Aβ soluble oligomers and related aggregated conformers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Medulla / cytology
  • Amyloid / chemistry
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / chemistry*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Molecular Weight
  • Protein Conformation
  • Rats
  • Solubility
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • APP protein, human
  • Amyloid
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor