What Is the Definition of Oligomers in Alzheimer's Disease?

Research in Alzheimer's Disease on Oligomers
Some Research Has Focused on Oligomers in Alzheimer's. Credit: Andrew Brookes/ Getty Images

Oligomers in Alzheimer's Disease: Definition

  • The simplified explanation:

Oligomers in Alzheimer's disease refer to a small number of proteins in the brain gathered together that might be responsible for causing memory loss and other cognitive problems early in Alzheimer's.

  • The chemistry explanation:

A polymer is a large molecule consisting of a chain or network of many repeating units, formed by chemically bonding together many identical or similar small molecules called monomers.

An oligomer is a small polymer that consists of just a few of these monomers.

Why Do Oligomers Matter?

As researchers search for the cause of Alzheimer's disease, a leading theory, known as the amyloid cascade hypothesis, argues that it is the oligomers made up of two, three, or more beta-amyloid subunits that exert the toxic effects of Alzheimer's disease, causing the very early cognitive deficits that occur.

Previously, it had been believed that the amyloid plaques that form later in the disease process were the toxic agents, but the fact that many normal people without signs of Alzheimer's disease have plaques led researchers to question that belief. In addition, a study of a vaccine that actually removed the plaques in people with Alzheimer's disease did not alter the course of the disease.


Acta Neuropathologica: Pathology and Mechanisms of Neurological Disease. February 2015, Volume 129, Issue 2, pp 183-206. Amyloid β oligomers in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis, treatment, and diagnosis. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00401-015-1386-3

Brain. 2013 May;136(Pt 5):1383-98. Amyloid-β oligomers in ageing and Alzheimer's disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23576130/

-Edited by Esther Heerema, MSW

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