In medicine, proteinopathy ([pref. protein]; -pathy [suff. disease]; proteinopathies pl.; proteinopathic adj), or proteopathy, protein conformational disorder, or protein misfolding disease, is a class of diseases in which certain proteins become structurally abnormal, and thereby disrupt the function of cells, tissues and organs of the body. Often the proteins fail to fold into their normal configuration; in this misfolded state, the proteins can become toxic in some way (a toxic gain-of-function) or they can lose their normal function. The proteinopathies include such diseases as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and other prion diseases, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyloidosis, multiple system atrophy, and a wide range of other disorders. The term proteopathy was first proposed in 2000 by Lary Walker and Harry LeVine.
|Micrograph of a section of the cerebral cortex from a person with Alzheimer's disease, immunostained with an antibody to amyloid beta (brown), a protein fragment that accumulates in amyloid plaques and cerebral amyloid angiopathy. 10X microscope objective.|
The concept of proteopathy can trace its origins to the mid-19th century, when, in 1854, Rudolf Virchow coined the term amyloid ("starch-like") to describe a substance in cerebral corpora amylacea that exhibited a chemical reaction resembling that of cellulose. In 1859, Friedreich and Kekulé demonstrated that, rather than consisting of cellulose, "amyloid" actually is rich in protein. Subsequent research has shown that many different proteins can form amyloid, and that all amyloids show birefringence in cross-polarized light after staining with the dye Congo red, as well as a fibrillar ultrastructure when viewed with an electron microscope. However, some proteinaceous lesions lack birefringence and contain few or no classical amyloid fibrils, such as the diffuse deposits of amyloid beta (Aβ) protein in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. Furthermore, evidence has emerged that small, non-fibrillar protein aggregates known as oligomers are toxic to the cells of an affected organ, and that amyloidogenic proteins in their fibrillar form may be relatively benign.