Plaques are abnormal clusters of protein fragments that build up between nerve cells.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have grown a line of brain cells that develop the telltale structures of Alzheimer's disease. The research published online Sunday in the journal Nature reproduced the full course of events underlying the development of the disease.

Researchers Doo Yeon Kim, an investigator in the Genetics and Aging Research Unit, and Rudolph Tanzi, director of the unit, cultured brain cells salted with Alzheimer's genes in a gelatinous environment that allowed the cells to develop the beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that characterize the disease.

"In this new system that we call 'Alzheimer's-in-a-dish,' we've been able to show for the first time that amyloid deposition is sufficient to lead to tangles and subsequent cell death," Tanzi said in a press release. "This new system -- which can be adapted to other neurodegenerative disorders -- should revolutionize drug discovery in terms of speed, costs and physiologic relevance to disease."