A chemical analog of curcumin as an improved inhibitor of amyloid Abeta oligomerization.
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Amyloid-like plaques are characteristic lesions defining the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The size and density of these plaques are closely associated with cognitive decline. To combat this disease, the few therapies that are available rely on drugs that increase neurotransmission; however, this approach has had limited success as it has simply slowed an imminent decline and failed to target the root cause of AD. Amyloid-like deposits result from aggregation of the Aβ peptide, and thus, reducing amyloid burden by preventing Aβ aggregation represents an attractive approach to improve the therapeutic arsenal for AD. Recent studies have shown that the natural product curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier in the CNS in sufficient quantities so as to reduce amyloid plaque burden. Based upon this bioactivity, we hypothesized that curcumin presents molecular features that make it an excellent lead compound for the development of more effective inhibitors of Aβ aggregation. To explore this hypothesis, we screened a library of curcumin analogs and identified structural features that contribute to the anti-oligomerization activity of curcumin and its analogs. First, at least one enone group in the spacer between aryl rings is necessary for measureable anti-Aβ aggregation activity. Second, an unsaturated carbon spacer between aryl rings is essential for inhibitory activity, as none of the saturated carbon spacers showed any margin of improvement over that of native curcumin. Third, methoxyl and hydroxyl substitutions in the meta- and para-positions on the aryl rings appear necessary for some measure of improved inhibitory activity. The best lead inhibitors have either their meta- and para-substituted methoxyl and hydroxyl groups reversed from that of curcumin or methoxyl or hydroxyl groups placed in both positions. The simple substitution of the para-hydroxy group on curcumin with a methoxy substitution improved inhibitor function by 6-7-fold over that measured for curcumin.