People with Parkinson's disease experience muscle tremors and rigidity because something kills off the brain cells that normally make the movement-coordinating chemical dopamine. The prime suspect is a protein molecule called alpha-synuclein, which can bunch into long, destructive fibers. Precisely how it does so is not clear, however.
To investigate, scientists at the University of California at San Diego ran supercomputer simulations using 962,757 processor hours to explore myriad possible shapes that alpha-synuclein molecules can take. The simulations revealed that the protein aggregates into ringlike structures that perforate cell membranes (the green areas in the image), leading to cell death and triggering Parkinson's. These studies have paved the way for the development of new aggregation-prevention drugs.