A recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry has provided some interesting information that, if replicated in humans, could shed helpful light on diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These diseases have been linked to defective proteins clumping together in the brain. Apparently, shape is everything when it comes to proteins. The correct shape allows some proteins to carry atoms or molecules about a cell, others to provide essential cellular scaffolding or identify invading bacteria for attack. When proteins lose their shape due to high temperature or chemical damage, they stop working and can clump together, a hallmark of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The UW researchers discovered a stressor that decreases protein stability and causes clumping: a shortage of zinc, an essential metal nutrient. Apparently, zinc ions play a key role in creating and holding proteins in the correct shape. This may be just one more example of how the brain malfunctions when components get out of balance for some reason.