New insights into Alzheimer’s classic villain, more on the irreproducibility program, and giving CRISPR greater utility in brain research. This week in Abstract Science. 

Possible Upside to a Bad Protein

(Science, 5/25/2016, Emily Underwood)

The classic villain in Alzheimer’s disease is ß amyloid, a protein fragment that can misfold and form sticky plaques around neurons in the brain. Now, a new study in mice and worms supports a controversial hypothesis that the plaques may not be all bad. ß amyloid’s tendency to choke neurons could be linked to an ancient evolutionary mission to protect the brain from pathogens. Findings from this study, led by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, appeared this week in Science Translational Medicine.

That Irreproducibility Problem

(Nature, 5/25/2016, Monica Baker)

A well-publicized study released last year by Boston University suggested that about US$28 billion is spent yearly on preclinical research that can’t be reproduced by other researchers. Now, a survey of 1,576 researchers conducted by Nature, found more than half of the scientists failed to reproduce their own experiments. The data also revealed sometimes-contradictory attitudes towards reproducibility. Although 52% of those surveyed agree that there is a significant ‘crisis’ of reproducibility, less than 31% think that failure to reproduce published results means that the result is probably wrong, and most say that they still trust the published literature.

The (Cutting) Edge Possibilities of CRISPR Continue

(GEN, 5/25/2016, Emma Yasinski)

The development of CRISPR technology has helped scientists overcome countless genetic engineering challenges but some cells are more difficult to edit than others. Brain cells have proven especially difficult to manipulate using CRISPR. Recently, researchers were able to harness the power of the CRISPR/Cas9 system in order to create a quick, scalable, and high-resolution technique to edit neuronal DNA, which they called “SLENDR,” (single-cell labeling of endogenous proteins by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated homology-directed repair.) Using the technique, the researchers labeled several distinct proteins with fluorescence, and were able to observe protein localization in the brain that was previously invisible. That’s just the start of what researchers may be able to accomplish using this reliable, new technique for inserting genes into neurons.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery