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Rough Games and the Brain

The Structure and Function of Proteins


Peggy Brickman
Department of Plant Biology
University of Georgia


In this "clicker case study," students learn about the chemical nature of protein molecules-in particular, how the constituent parts of proteins (amino acids) contribute to protein three-dimensional structure and folding. Several important human diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease), an inherited form of emphysema, Alzheimer's, and even many cancers are believed to result from protein miss-folding. Students often view these as "old-people" diseases, but may be unaware that many athletes suffer from dementia and have problems much like Alzheimer's at a very early age due to concussions suffered in their sport, a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This case focuses on the efforts made by fans and ex-players to highlight the serious problem of head trauma and the resulting CTE symptoms caused by protein-filled plaques seen in many pro-football players, boxers, and even wrestlers. As students learn about what causes CTE, they begin to see the need to understand protein composition and folding, and how amino-acid composition and folding affect protein function.

  • Compare the subunits of proteins with the subunits of carbohydrates, lipids, or DNA.
  • Understand that a polypeptide is a linear polymer of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds that then fold into a 3-dimensional shape using largely hydrogen bonds but some covalent bonds as well.
  • Apply knowledge of the polar and non-polar bonds found in phospholipid membrane bilayers and R groups of amino acids, to predict the type of R group that would be found in a protein inside a cell compared to one embedded in the cell membrane.
  • Explain how shape relates to protein function.
Keywords: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Alzheimers; protein structure; protein folding; macromolecules; sports injuries
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biochemistry   Biology (General)   Sports Science  
Date Posted: 1/23/2013
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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