Aβ42 oligomers, but not fibrils, simultaneously bind to and cause damage to ganglioside-containing lipid membranes

T L Williams, B R G Johnson, B Urbanc, A Toby A Jenkins, S D A Connell, L C Serpell

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A beta (amyloid-beta peptide) assembles to form amyloid fibres that accumulate in senile plaques associated with AD (Alzheimer's disease). The major constituent, a 42-residue A beta, has the propensity to assemble and form soluble and potentially cytotoxic oligomers, as well as ordered stable amyloid fibres. It is widely believed that the cytotoxicity is a result of the formation of transient soluble oligomers. This observed toxicity may be associated with the ability of oligomers to associate with and cause permeation of lipid membranes. In the present study, we have investigated the ability of oligomeric and fibrillar A beta 42 to simultaneously associate with and affect the integrity of biomimetic membranes in vitro. Surface plasmon field-enhanced fluorescence spectroscopy reveals that the binding of the freshly dissolved oligomeric 42-residue peptide binds with a two-step association with the lipid bilayer, and causes disruption of the membrane resulting in leakage from vesicles. In contrast, fibrils bind with a 2-fold reduced avidity, and their addition results in approximately 2-fold less fluorophore leakage compared with oligomeric A beta. Binding of the oligomers may be, in part, mediated by the GM1 ganglioside receptors as there is a 1.8-fold increase in oligomeric A beta binding and a 2-fold increase in permeation compared with when GM1 is not present. Atomic force microscopy reveals the formation of defects and holes in response to oligomeric A beta, but not preformed fibrillar A beta. The results of the present study indicate that significant membrane disruption arises from association of low-molecular-mass A beta and this may be mediated by mechanical damage to the membranes by A beta aggregation. This membrane disruption may play a key role in the mechanism of A beta-related cell toxicity in AD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011


  • amyloid-beta peptide
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • protein misfolding
  • GM1 ganglioside
  • atomic force microscopy
  • surface plasmon field-enhanced fluorescence spectroscopy
  • membrane bilayer


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