March Research Round-Up

Congratulations to our amazing research teams here in the Department of Chemistry for their publications this month!

Bowman Group

Nandi, A., Qu, C., & Bowman, J. M. (2019). Using Gradients in Permutationally Invariant Polynomial Potential fitting: A Demonstration for CH4 Using as Few as 100 ConfigurationsJournal of chemical theory and computation.

Davies Group

Davies, H.M.L., Chennamadhavuni, S., Martin, T.J., Childers, S.R. (2019). U.S. Patent Application No. 15 /145,323

Evangelista Group

Li, C., & Evangelista, F. A. (2019). Multireference Theories of Electron Correlation Based on the Driven Similarity Renormalization GroupAnnual review of physical chemistry70.

Hill Group

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2019). Modulating electronic coupling at the quantum dot/molecule interface by wavefunction engineeringThe Journal of Chemical Physics150(12), 124704.

Lian Group

Li, Q., Liu, Q., Schaller, R. D., & Lian, T. (2019). Reducing Optical Gain Threshold in Two-Dimensional CdSe Nanoplatelets by Giant Oscillator Strength Transition EffectThe journal of physical chemistry letters.

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2019). Modulating electronic coupling at the quantum dot/molecule interface by wavefunction engineeringThe Journal of Chemical Physics150(12), 124704.

Lynn Group

Taran, O., Patel, V., & Lynn, D. (2019). Small Molecules Reaction Network That Models ROS Dynamic of the RhizosphereChemical Communications.

Musaev Group

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2019). Modulating electronic coupling at the quantum dot/molecule interface by wavefunction engineeringThe Journal of Chemical Physics150(12), 124704.

Salaita Group

Sylber, C., Petree, J., Baker, N., Salaita, K., & Wongtrakool, C. (2019). 3582 Scavenger Receptor Expression is Differentially Affected by DNAzyme-Gold Nanoparticle ConjugatesJournal of Clinical and Translational Science3(s1), 20-21.

Wuest Group

Scharnow, A. M., Solinski, A. E., & Wuest, W. M. (2019). Targeting S. mutans biofilms: a perspective on preventing dental cariesMedChemComm.

Post, S., Shapiro, J., & Wuest, W. (2019). Connecting iron acquisition and biofilm formation in the ESKAPE pathogens as a strategy for combatting antibiotic resistanceMedChemComm.

February Research Round-Up

Congratulations to our amazing research teams here in the Department of Chemistry for their publications this month!

Conticello Group

Kreutzberger, M. A., Hughes, S., Conticello, V., & Egelman, E. H. (2019). Structural Studies of the T-and RP4-Pili using Cryo-EMBiophysical Journal116(3), 573a.

Dunham Group

Mehrani, A., Hoffer, E. D., Goralski, T. D., Keiler, K. C., Dunham, C. M., & Stagg, S. (2019). Investigating the Structural Mechanism of the Stalled Bacterial Ribosome Bound to a Drug that Targets Trans-TranslationBiophysical Journal116(3), 573a-574a.

Nguyen, H. A., Hoffer, E. D., & Dunham, C. M. (2019). Importance of tRNA anticodon loop modification and a conserved, noncanonical anticodon stem pairing in tRNAProCGG for decodingJournal of Biological Chemistry, jbc-RA119.

Schureck, M. A., Meisner, J., Hoffer, E. D., Wang, D., Onuoha, N., Ei Cho, S., … & Dunham, C. M. (2019). Structural basis of transcriptional regulation by the HigA antitoxinMolecular microbiology.

Heaven Group

Khvatov, N. A., Zagidullin, M. V., Tolstov, G. I., Medvedkov, I. A., Mebel, A. M., Heaven, M. C., & Azyazov, V. N. (2019). Product Channels of the reactions of O2 (b1Σg+)Chemical Physics.

Hill Group

Hill, C., & Sullivan, K. (2019). U.S. Patent Application No. 16/061,327.

Lian Group

Lian, T., Koper, M. T., Reuter, K., & Subotnik, J. E. (2019). Special Topic on Interfacial Electrochemistry and Photo (electro) catalysis.

Musaev Group

Gair, J., Haines, B. E., Filatov, A. S., Musaev, D. G., & Lewis, J. C. (2019). Di-Palladium Complexes are Active Catalysts for Mono-N-Protected Amino Acid Accelerated Enantioselective CH Functionalization.

Salaita Group

Brockman, J. M., & Salaita, K. (2019). Mechanical Proofreading: A General Mechanism to Enhance the Fidelity of Information Transfer Between Cells Phys. 7: 14. doi: 10.3389/fphy.

Blanchard, A., & Salaita, K. (2019). Autochemophoretic DNA Motors Generate 100+ Piconewton ForcesBiophysical Journal116(3), 292a-293a.

Rao, T. C., Ma, V. P. Y., Urner, T. M., Grandhi, S., Salaita, K., & Mattheyses, A. L. (2019). EGFR Activation Enables Increased Integrin Forces and Organization of Mature Focal AdhesionsBiophysical Journal116(3), 413a.

Quach, M. E., Combs, D., Salaita, K., & Li, R. (2019). Force-Induced Unfolding of a Mechanosensory Domain in Platelet Glycoprotein (Gp) Ib-IX under Solution and Adherent ConditionsBiophysical Journal116(3), 376a.

Weinert Group

Cary, S. P., Boon, E. M., Weinert, E., Winger, J. A., & Marletta, M. A. (2019). U.S. Patent Application No. 10/202,428.

 

November Research Round-Up

Congratulations to our amazing research teams here in the Department of Chemistry for their publications this month!

Bowman Group:

Chen, Q., & Bowman, J. M. (2018). Quantum approaches to vibrational dynamics and spectroscopy: is ease of interpretation sacrificed as rigor increases?Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

Yang, B., Zhang, P., Chen, Q., Stancil, P., Bowman, J. M., Naduvalath, B., & Forrey, R. C. (2018). Inelastic Vibrational Dynamics of CS in Collision with H2 Using a Full-dimensional Potential Energy SurfacePhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

Dunham Group:

Hong, S., Sunita, S., Maehigashi, T., Hoffer, E. D., Dunkle, J. A., & Dunham, C. M. (2018). Mechanism of tRNA-mediated+ 1 ribosomal frameshiftingProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences115(44), 11226-11231.

Rivera, S., Young, P. G., Hoffer, E. D., Vansuch, G. E., Metzler, C. L., Dunham, C. M., & Weinert, E. E. (2018). Structural Insights into Oxygen-Dependent Signal Transduction within Globin Coupled SensorsInorganic chemistry.

Hoffer, E. D., Maehigashi, T., Fredrick, K., & Dunham, C. M. (2018). Ribosomal ambiguity (ram) mutations promote the open (off) to closed (on) transition and thereby increase miscodingNucleic Acids Research.

Hill Group:

Sullivan, K. P., Wieliczko, M., Kim, M., Yin, Q., Collins-Wildman, D. L., Mehta, A. K., … & Hill, C. L. (2018). Speciation and Dynamics in the [Co4V2W18O68] 10-/Co (II) aq/CoOx Catalytic Water Oxidation SystemACS Catalysis.

Kaledin, A. L., Troya, D., Karwacki, C. J., Balboa, A., Gordon, W. O., Morris, J. R., … & Musaev, D. G. (2018). Key Mechanistic Details of Paraoxon Decomposition by Polyoxometalates: Critical Role of Para-Nitro SubstitutionChemical Physics.

Lian Group:

Clark, M. L., Ge, A., Videla, P. E., Rudshteyn, B., Miller, C. J., Song, J., … & Kubiak, C. P. (2018). CO2 Reduction Catalysts on Gold Electrode Surfaces Influenced by Large Electric FieldsJournal of the American Chemical Society.

Lutz Group:

Williams, E., Jung, S. M., Coffman, J. L., & Lutz, S. (2018). Pore engineering for enhanced mass transport in encapsulin nano-compartmentsACS synthetic biology.

Musaev Group:

Kaledin, A. L., Troya, D., Karwacki, C. J., Balboa, A., Gordon, W. O., Morris, J. R., … & Musaev, D. G. (2018). Key Mechanistic Details of Paraoxon Decomposition by Polyoxometalates: Critical Role of Para-Nitro Substitution. Chemical Physics.

Salaita Group:

Hong, J., Ge, C., Jothikumar, P., Yuan, Z., Liu, B., Bai, K., … & Palin, A. (2018). A TCR mechanotransduction signaling loop induces negative selection in the thymusNature Immunology, 1.

Weinert Group

Rivera, S., Young, P. G., Hoffer, E. D., Vansuch, G. E., Metzler, C. L., Dunham, C. M., & Weinert, E. E. (2018). Structural Insights into Oxygen-Dependent Signal Transduction within Globin Coupled SensorsInorganic chemistry.

Fontaine, B. M., Duggal, Y., & Weinert, E. E. (2018). Exploring the Links Between Nucleotide Signaling and Quorum Sensing Pathways in Regulating Bacterial VirulenceACS infectious diseases.

Wuest Group:

Kontos, R. C., Schallenhammer, S. A., Bentley, B. S., Morrison, K. R., Feliciano, J. A., Tasca, J. A., … & Minbiole, K. P. (2018). An Investigation Into Rigidity‐Activity Relationships in bisQAC Amphiphilic AntisepticsChemMedChem.

Shapiro, J. A., Varga, J. J., Parsonage, D., Walton, W., Redinbo, M. R., Ross, L. J., … & Goldberg, J. B. (2018). Identification of Specific and Non‐specific Inhibitors of Bacillus anthracis Type III Pantothenate Kinase (PanK)ChemMedChem.

Kilgore, M. B., Morrison, K. R., Wuest, W. M., & Chandler, J. D. (2018). Influence of pH on the reactions of heme peroxidase-derived oxidants with R19SFree Radical Biology and Medicine128, S101-S102.

October Research Round-Up

Congratulations to our amazing research teams here in the Department of Chemistry for their publications this month!

Bowman Group:

Nandi, A., Qu, C., & Bowman, J. M. (2018). Diffusion Monte Carlo Calculations of Zero‐Point Energies of Methanol and Deuterated Methanol. Journal of computational chemistry.

Davies Group:

Davies, H. M., Itami, K., & Stoltz, B. M. (2018). New directions in natural product synthesisChemical Society Reviews.

Evangelista Group:

Huang, Y., Xu, Z., Jin, S., Li, C., Warncke, K., Evangelista, F. A., … & Egap, E. (2018). Conjugated Oligomers with Stable Radical Substituents: Synthesis, Single Crystal Structures, Electronic Structure and Excited State DynamicsChemistry of Materials.

Heaven Group

Torbin, A., Pershin, A., Zagidullin, M., Heaven, M., Mebel, A., & Azyazov, V. (2018). Ozone recovery in the presence of CO and N2O. In MATEC Web of Conferences(Vol. 209, p. 00016). EDP Sciences.

Tolstov, G. I., Zagidullin, M. V., Khvatov, N. A., Medvedkov, I. A., Mebel, A. M., Heaven, M. C., & Azyazov, V. N. (2018). Measurements of rate constants of O2 (b) quenching by CH4, NO, N2O at temperatures 300-800 K. In MATEC Web of Conferences(Vol. 209, p. 00006). EDP Sciences.

Heaven, M. C. (2018, October). Optically pumped rare gas lasers (Conference Presentation). In High-Power Lasers: Technology and Systems, Platforms, and Effects II(Vol. 10798, p. 1079806). International Society for Optics and Photonics.

Heemstra Group

Wilson, C. J., Bommarius, A. S., Champion, J. A., Chernoff, Y. O., Lynn, D. G., Paravastu, A. K., … & Heemstra, J. M. (2018). Biomolecular Assemblies: Moving from Observation to Predictive DesignChemical reviews.

Morris, F. D., Peterson, E. M., Heemstra, J. M., & Harris, J. M. (2018). Single-Molecule Kinetic Investigation of Cocaine-Dependent Split-Aptamer AssemblyAnalytical chemistry.

Hill Group

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2018). A bulk adjusted linear combination of atomic orbitals (BA‐LCAO) approach for nanoparticlesJournal of computational chemistry.

Ke Group

Wang, P., & Ke, Y. (2018). Attack on the Cell Membrane: The Pointy Ends of DNA Nanostructures Lead the Way.

Wang, D., Song, J., Wang, P., Pan, V., Zhang, Y., Cui, D., & Ke, Y. (2018). Design and operation of reconfigurable two-dimensional DNA molecular arraysNature protocols, 1.

Kindt Group

Patel, L. A., & Kindt, J. T. (2018). Simulations of NaCl Aggregation from Solution: Solvent Determines Topography of Free Energy LandscapeJournal of computational chemistry.

Guo, Z., & Kindt, J. T. (2018). Partitioning of Size-mismatched Impurities to Grain Boundaries in 2-d Solid Hard Sphere MonolayersLangmuir.

Lian Group

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2018). A bulk adjusted linear combination of atomic orbitals (BA‐LCAO) approach for nanoparticlesJournal of computational chemistry.

Huang, Y., Xu, Z., Jin, S., Li, C., Warncke, K., Evangelista, F. A., … & Egap, E. (2018). Conjugated Oligomers with Stable Radical Substituents: Synthesis, Single Crystal Structures, Electronic Structure and Excited State DynamicsChemistry of Materials.

Lynn Group

Wilson, C. J., Bommarius, A. S., Champion, J. A., Chernoff, Y. O., Lynn, D. G., Paravastu, A. K., … & Heemstra, J. M. (2018). Biomolecular Assemblies: Moving from Observation to Predictive DesignChemical reviews.

Musaev Group

Kaledin, A. L., Hill, C. L., Lian, T., & Musaev, D. G. (2018). A bulk adjusted linear combination of atomic orbitals (BA‐LCAO) approach for nanoparticles. Journal of computational chemistry.

Haines, B. E., Nelson, B. M., Grandner, J. M., Kim, J., Houk, K. N., Movassaghi, M., & Musaev, D. G. (2018). Mechanism of Permanganate-Promoted Dihydroxylation of Complex Diketopiperazines: Critical Roles of Counter-cation and Ion-PairingJournal of the American Chemical Society.

Wuest Group

Ernouf, G., Wilt, I., Zahim, S., & Wuest, W. M. (2018). Epoxy isonitriles, a unique class of antibiotics–Synthesis of their metabolites and biological investigationsChemBioChem.

 

Looking Back on 2017

Happy New Year! As we welcome 2018, let’s reflect on some of the great things that happened during 2017.

Milestones for the Hill Group

The Hill Group–led by Dr. Craig L. Hill– is celebrating as their paper, “Polyoxometalates in medicine” recently went over 1000 citations. This is the third paper by the Hill group to reach this significant milestone.  A fourth paper by the Hill Group on a new type of water oxidation catalyst, a critical requirement of artificial photosynthesis, will also reach 1000 citations soon.

The Hill Group had another opportunity to share their research with a broad audience this summer when Professor Hill was selected as the Global Initiative of Academic Networks lecturer in India. The GIAN program seeks to bring together researchers across the globe to promote international collaboration on a range of scientific subjects.  Professor Hill’s lectures targeted artificial photosynthesis, polyoxometalate science, and related subjects.

Further Reading:

Chemistry Graduate Students Raise Awareness with Sickle and Flow Concert

Close up of Sickle & Flow ATL Flyer
Close up of Sickle & Flow ATL Flyer

Chemistry graduate students helped to raise awareness of sickle cell disease with “Sickle & Flow,” a hip hop benefit concert. The concert took place on Saturday, June 18th in Edgewood. Proceeds raised from the concert–which featured Command, Bassmint Fresh, Ariel Simone, and many more–will benefit the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia.

IM Atlanta highlights the contributions of Marika Wieliczko (Hill Group) to the concert:

Working together with the team at SciComm, [Matthew] Lewis [Emory MD/PhD Candidate] and Wieliczko began to reach out to different artists and musicians to discuss the different ways they could leverage Atlanta. The thought was that in order to better connect the scientific and medical communities with the public, they needed to tap into the culture that drives the city forward. “The nightlife, the music, the history of this place is so incredible,” says Lewis. “There are a lot of young people and a high proportion of African-Americans. We got to thinking: what if we could combine that youth culture, that music and arts vibe that is so strong in Atlanta, and try to partner with these organizations together and celebrate the lives of people affected by sickle cell?”

Other Emory chemistry students volunteered their efforts to help make Sickle & Flow happen including Becky Bartlett (Conticello Group), Carson Powers (Widicus Weaver Group), and Keon Reid (Kindt Group).

[Full Article in IM Atlanta]

[Emory SciComm on Facebook]

Explained At Last: Why Alkali Metals Explode in Water

By Ben Yin (Hill Group)

Reposted with permission from Inscripto: The Science Writers Association of Emory. Originally published April 14th, 2015.

In the pilot episode of the iconic 80s TV show, MacGyver, the titular character made his debut as a resourceful secret agent by making a sodium bomb to take down a wall, rescuing a couple of scientists. For MacGyver, with his extensive knowledge of the physical sciences, the process was simple: he immerses pure sodium metal inside a bottle of water and the explosive reaction between sodium and water is great entertainment for viewers of all ages.

Today, this little display of pyrotechnic shenanigans is often seen in high school chemistry demos. Alternatively, one can find many dozens of internet videos documenting this violent reaction between alkali metals like sodium or potassium and water, often accompanied by exclamations and whistles of joy. It’s no surprise that some of these videos have also gone viral. This amusing diversion of chucking alkali metals into water to watch it explode has been around since the 19th century and scientists have had a solid description of the nature of this reaction for about as long. Or so we thought.

The classic explanation of elemental sodium’s volatile reaction with water involves the simple reduction-oxidation chemistry of sodium and water: electrons flow from sodium metal into the surrounding water, forming sodium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. This is a very fast reaction that produces a lot of heat. Hydrogen gas is extremely flammable in air, and in the presence of a heat source, this mixture can lead to a hydrogen explosion, not unlike the infamous incident that allegedly set the Hindenburg zeppelin aflame. The release of the large amount of energy in these reactions results in rapid expansion of the surrounding gas, which is what causes chemical explosions.

Generations of chemists have accepted this seemingly obvious explanation without much deliberation. It is perhaps surprising then, that one curious soul decided to look at this century-old reaction more in-depth.

Philip Mason earned his PhD in chemistry and has co-authored more than 30 scientific papers, but is probably better known for his YouTube channel, where he regularly posts videos, often in vlog format, under the pseudonym “Thunderf00t” (yes, that’s two zeros substituting for the letters “O”). His favorite post topics are often pieces of popular science he encounters, and Mason has earned the support of a huge public following with his YouTube channel. In 2011, using donations from some of his more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers, Mason purchased the materials and consumer grade high-speed cameras necessary to look at what he thought would be “home chemistry.”

The YouTube project, it turns out, raised many questions, for which Mason found traditional answers unsatisfactory, namely the explosive nature of alkali metals in water. Compelling footage also showed a secondary gas explosion above the water surface that resembles a hydrogen explosion, demonstrating that the initial stronger and faster explosion can’t be explained with our traditional understandings of this reaction. Some scientists have suggested, instead, that the explosion is caused by the sheer amount of heat released during the reaction. If this were the case, the heat would boil the water and a rapid generation of steam leads to explosion. Mason remained unconvinced. A key insight by Mason and his colleagues was that as hydrogen and steam are generated when the alkali metal comes into contact with water, the interface between the metal and water should be blocked off by the products and therefore inhibit further reaction. This would result in the exact opposite of the explosive reactions being observed. Crucially, immersing solid chunks of sodium and potassium under water still results in rapid explosions, so this too could not be the explanation for the initiation of the explosion. These enigmas led Mason to bring his YouTube project into the lab.

To get a better look at the reaction, Mason and his colleagues turns to research grade high-speed cameras. Filming at around 10,000 frames per second, they were able to capture the beginning of the reaction between alkali metals and water in astounding detail. What they captured is striking: the reaction is immediate, and the metal shatters on contact with the water surface. Within two-ten thousandths of a second, spikes of metal are flying apart from anywhere the surface touches water. As the sheer force of the rupturing metal bursts forth, a brilliant blue wash appears to stain the blast of water in the very next frame. This stunning blue color is due to solvated electrons in water, which is usually far too short-lived for people to see.

What isn’t so easy to interpret are the metal spikes flying apart, piercing the water in the process. However, with some chemical intuition and computing time on supercomputers, Mason and his colleagues came up with an explanation for this observation that ultimately describes the explosive nature of alkali metals in water.

When large numbers of electrons escape from the alkali metals into the surrounding water, the metal itself becomes extremely positively charged. Like the static charges that can make our hair spike up for that mad scientist look, the positive metal atoms now repel each other, except with much more violent force. Atoms that were previously bonded together as a solid now suddenly fly apart at extraordinary speed. This, in turn, exposes fresh metallic surfaces to water for the explosive reaction to take place. This little-known phenomenon is called Coulomb explosion.

The immediate application of this knowledge for preventing explosions in industrial use of alkali metals will be useful. Just as important, the discovery of this mechanism of explosion in a chemical reaction over a century old reminds us not only of how little we know, but also how much we simply fail to even consider. In the face of public apathy for science, it is encouraging that such a significant scientific discovery should come from a YouTuber, funded partially by the YouTube community, and documented in vlog format throughout the research process. It leaves us wondering what other remarkable discoveries such public engagement could lead to.

Mason and his colleagues published their research in the February issue of Nature Chemistry, they acknowledged the support of his YouTube followers.

Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmlAYnFF_s8

Link for article: http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v7/n3/full/nchem.2161.html

The Mystery of Alzheimer’s: Is it an Autoimmune Disorder?

By Kevin Sullivan (Hill Group)

Reposted with permission from InScripto: The Science Writers Association of Emory. Originally published April 8th, 2015.

There is a good chance that you personally know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This is unsurprising, as it is estimated that one out of every nine people over 65 is affected, making it the most common form of dementia. Initially, someone with Alzheimer’s will show signs of forgetfulness and disorientation which may not be immediately noticeable. A person might find themselves losing their keys more often or asking the same question multiple times in a conversation without realizing it. These symptoms gradually get worse over a period of three to nine years, leading to more severe memory loss, mental and physical impairment, and eventually resulting in death. According to the 2014 World Alzheimer Report, 44 million people are living with dementia worldwide, with the number set to double by 2030. Aside from the devastating emotional costs imposed upon the individuals and their care providers, usually family members, the economic impact of dementia is an imposing figure. In 2010, the cost of care for dementia was $604 billion, with costs expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2030.

Decades of research have revealed several risk factors for the disease, such as age, head trauma, heart disease, and sex (women may be more susceptible than men). Despite information about these risk factors and studies revealing the differences between the brains of people with Alzheimer’s relative to those of healthy people, the exact cause still remains a mystery. In recent years, researchers have discovered many clues that have gotten us closer to solving this mystery. One of the key findings is that the degeneration of the brain in Alzheimer’s is associated with the presence of protein fragments called amyloid beta peptides. Amyloid beta is present in healthy brains as well, but problems arise in Alzheimer’s when these peptides become folded in an incorrect way, causing them to associate with one another and form clumps, called plaques, which deposit in the brain.

Another major finding is that tau proteins, which normally help to stabilize the structural components of cells, can become defective in Alzheimer’s disease, causing them to get tangled up and deposit in the brain. Both amyloid beta plaques and tau protein tangles are quite toxic to nerve cells and eventually result in the death of the neurons that make up the brain. Despite these and a variety of other clues that have been discovered, Alzheimer’s is plagued by the classic chicken-or-egg question: which of the observed problems are causes of the disease, and which ones are a result of the disease process? So far, this question has been very difficult to answer. Only one form of Alzheimer’s, known as early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, has a definite cause involving a mutation in specific genes that produce amyloid beta proteins. However, these mutations are the cause of only 1 to 5 percent of cases, while the origin of the rest of the cases remains unclear.

The field of Alzheimer’s research is rapidly advancing, with new discoveries made nearly every day. One intriguing recent discovery suggests that an immune response may be responsible for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In a March 2015 review published in Nature Immunology, a group led by Michael T. Heneka from the University of Bonn explained some of these recent findings. One of these hypotheses proposed explains that, because amyloid beta is found in several different viruses and bacteria, the body developed an immune system response to the peptide in order to fight off these pathogens. In some cases, the immune response can become misdirected and targets the amyloid beta found in human tissue instead of that of an invader, which is known as an autoimmune response. When the immune system attacks tissue within the brain, it causes damage to the local neurons and leads to destruction of brain tissue.

The immune response in the brain is controlled by cells called microglia. These cells act as the guard dogs of the central nervous system, both defending against infections and scavenging damaged cells and waste found around the brain. Much like certain dogs, they can have extremely strong reactions to even small disturbances. This sensitivity, while quite advantageous for quickly responding to threats, can also have major consequences if they become so sensitive that they start attacking human tissues. Once the microglia are activated, they release molecules that trigger inflammation in surrounding tissue. Inflammation is a process that normally helps to eliminate the initial cause of an injury and help with tissue repair, but persistent inflammation will result in significant cellular damage. Moreover, this response actually makes it more difficult for the body to clear beta amyloid plaques, causing a negative feedback loop that results in even more plaque deposition in the brain.Adding more evidence to this theory, a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on February 2015 by the Bieberich lab at Georgia Regents University demonstrated that an autoimmune response might be responsible for the progression of the disease. Researchers have discovered that a molecule called ceramide, mainly found in membranes surrounding cells throughout the body, can be targeted by the immune system. This immune response causes an increase in antibodies that destroy ceramide in the brain. The researchers found that when amyloid beta plaques start to build up in the brain, certain cells begin producing more ceramide. The ceramide is then targeted by the immune system, causing inflammation and increasing the amount of amyloid beta in the brain. These new studies suggest that our own immune response, then, may be what is ultimately responsible for the advancement of the disease.
While we may still not know the root cause behind the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease, these new findings have revealed another important clue, which is that autoimmune responses may play a significant role in the progression of the disease. One of the exciting aspects of this research is that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities to treat Alzheimer’s using therapeutics that target the microglia or reduce inflammation in the brain, which may be able to slow down the progression of the disease. More effective treatments are sure to significantly address the mounting healthcare costs associated with the growing population afflicted with this disease. More importantly, these new treatments have the potential to provide life-altering relief to those currently suffering from Alzheimer’s.