It is thought that the pathological cascade in Alzheimer's disease is initiated by the formation of amyloid-β (Aβ) peptide complexes on cell membranes. However, there is considerable debate about the nature of these complexes and the type of solution-phase Ab aggregates that may contribute to their formation. Also, it is yet to be shown that Ab attaches strongly to living cell membranes, and that this can happen at low, physiologically relevant Aβ concentrations. Here, we simultaneously measure the aggregate size and fluorescence lifetime of fluorescently labeled Aβ1-40 on and above the membrane of cultured PC12 cells at near-physiological concentrations. We find that at 350 nM Aβ concentration, large (>10 nm average hydrody-namic radius) assemblies of codiffusing, membrane-attached Aβ molecules appear on the cell membrane together with a near-monomeric species. When the extracellular concentration is 150 nM, the membrane contains only the smaller species, but with a similar degree of attachment. At both concentrations, the extracellular solution contains only small (∼2.3 nm average hydro-dynamic radius) Aβ oligomers or monomers. We conclude that at near-physiological concentrations only the small oligomeric Aβ species are relevant, they are capable of attaching to the cell membrane, and they assemble in situ to form much larger complexes.
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