Angry Toxicologist

So I’m looking around at news stories and I find one on Eurekalert about neurodegenerative disease entitled “Researchers link metal ions to neurodegenerative disease”. My first thought: “Wow.” Then I read the article. Then I thought: “Wow. Eurekalert screws it up (again).”

According to the news snippet: researchers from Emory have found that a certain way that metal ions bind to amyloid fibrils in the brain appears toxic to neurons. (The build up of Amyloid fibrils in the brain is linked primarily to Alzheimer’s but also to Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.) So I’m thinking “Back to the aluminum causes alzheimer’s hoopla?” No so fast says the article. It says that Aluminum has been ruled out so Copper, Zinc, and Iron are the prime suspects. Cu, Zn, and Fe? So I’m starting to get a bit skeptical.

From the news clip:

While little is known about the exact mechanisms governing the formation of amyloid fibrils, the study’s results suggest that the exact way amyloid binds to copper ions affects the fibers’ architecture, rate of propagation and their effect, if any, on surrounding neurons.


The scientists, collaborating throughout the United States and across Emory, focused on the smallest individual unit of amino acids that make up amyloid fibrils. By determining only an individual unit’s physical and chemical properties when binding with metal, the researchers were able to determine the activity governing the assembly and toxicity of whole fibrils with respect to their effect on brain cells.

“We showed that the activity of this minimal unit actually replicates the activity of the whole fibril on the neuronal cell. And it does so by binding the metal in a specific way,” says Dr. Lynn.

Um, that’s about it. So doesn’t it seem likely that it’s still a problem with amyloid folding improperly that causes the metal ion binding that then goes on aggregate? Otherwise, since every person on the planet is loaded up with Cu, Zn, and Fe, wouldn’t we all have the diseases? In other words, the etiology of the disease has nothing to do with metal ions, although they appear involved in the progression of the disease. So we figured out something about how the large scale folding happens and narrowed down another avenue to investigate for cause (What is causing the metal ions to bind in that particular spot in a pre-disease state. The study comes out in PNAS this week.

Grade: D, Okay, so the article writer usually doesn’t get to choose the hed, but the article is REALLY short on details or any summary about what the paper really shows. I blame both writers; it’s AAAS, for goodness sake!


  1. #1 GENC
    January 21, 2010