In the brain, cells called neurons communicate with each other as huge networks and are responsible for making you who you are, from thoughts, feelings, personality, memories and controlling your body.

What happens in dementia?

When people develop dementia neurons become damaged and can start to die. This damage can spread across the brain and in Alzheimer’s disease it often starts in areas of the brain involved in forming memories. Under the microscope, ‘plaques and tangles’ are seen which are clumps of proteins that build up abnormally and cause cell death in dementia. At it’s heart dementia comes from the mis-folding of these proteins.

What are proteins?

Proteins are the molecules in your cells that carry out jobs. They are long chain molecules that then fold to make a specific shape, and it’s the way they fold up that gives them their shape and therefore their job. If they misfold they’re not able to work, and in dementia misfolded proteins become sticky and encourage other proteins to misfold too and so the damage spreads throughout the brain.

Scientists are studying how proteins can misfold and this could give clues for ways to treat or prevent dementia. Download this sheet with drawings of misfolded proteins studied by scientists which can be surprisingly beautiful - resembling flowers or mandalas. Add your own unique colours.

Folding proteins origami sheet

Learn about different types of brain cells with this worksheet.

Play this introduction to the sheet with Dr Lizzie Burns who will also guide you through origami folds and encourage you to get creative. The film includes an additional creative activity - fold a chatterbox and experiment with what other patterns and shapes you can create from them together.

33 second time-lapse film to show colouring protein shapes
26 second time-lapse film on protein misfolding with origami
Meet a neuroscientist – play this 10 min video while colouring with Lizzie who will ask neuroscientist Dr Hazel questions about proteins, changes with dementia and hope for treatments.


Discover more activities in the Beautiful Brains series.