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Most neurodegenerative diseases have the characteristics of protein folding disorders, i.e., they cause lesions to appear in vulnerable regions of the nervous system, corresponding to protein aggregates that progressively spread through the neuronal network as the symptoms progress. Alzheimer's disease is one of these diseases. It is characterized by two types of lesions: neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) composed of tau proteins and senile plaques, formed essentially of amyloid peptides (Aβ). A combination of factors ranging from genetic mutations to age-related changes in the cellular context converge in this disease to accelerate Aβ deposition. Over the last two decades, numerous studies have attempted to elucidate how structural determinants of its precursor (APP) modify Aβ production, and to understand the processes leading to the formation of different Aβ aggregates, e.g., fibrils and oligomers. The synthesis proposed in this review indicates that the same motifs can control APP function and Aβ production essentially by regulating membrane protein dimerization, and subsequently Aβ aggregation processes. The distinct properties of these motifs and the cellular context regulate the APP conformation to trigger the transition to the amyloid pathology. This concept is critical to better decipher the patterns switching APP protein conformation from physiological to pathological and improve our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the formation of amyloid fibrils that devastate neuronal functions.

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SIGN Unit, de Duve Institute, UCLouvain, 1200 Brussels, Belgium.