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Amyloid Plaques & Neurofibrillary Tangles

Medical illustration showing the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease

© 2000 - 2014 BrightFocus Foundation

The formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are thought to contribute to the degradation of the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain and the subsequent symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Amyloid Plaques

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation of amyloid plaques between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Amyloid is a general term for protein fragments that the body produces normally. Beta amyloid is a protein fragment snipped from an amyloid precursor protein (APP). In a healthy brain, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. In Alzheimer's disease, the fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques.

Neurofibrillary Tangles

Neurofibrillary tangles are insoluble twisted fibers found inside the brain's cells. These tangles consist primarily of a protein called tau, which forms part of a structure called a microtubule. The microtubule helps transport nutrients and other important substances from one part of the nerve cell to another. In Alzheimer's disease, however, the tau protein is abnormal and the microtubule structures collapse.

Further Information

The following medical illustrations can provide you with more information:

Last Review: 04/15/14


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