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Proteins that contort into aberrant shapes—and then initiate a chain reaction that causes other proteins to do the same—underlie a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's. In Alzheimer's, a misfolded Aβ protein acts as a “seed” instigating a process that eventually leads to both small and large clumps of proteins that damage and ultimately kill nerve cells.

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SOURCE: “PHASES OF Aβ-DEPOSITION IN THE HUMAN BRAIN AND ITS RELEVANCE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AD,” BY DIETMAR R. THAL ET AL., IN NEUROLOGY, VOL. 58, NO. 12; JUNE 25, 2002 (brain series); AXS Biomedical Animation Studio

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