The proteostasis network has evolved to support protein folding under normal conditions and to expand this capacity in response to proteotoxic stresses. Nevertheless, many pathogenic states are associated with protein misfolding, revealing in vivo limitations on quality control mechanisms. One contributor to these limitations is the physical characteristics of misfolded proteins, as exemplified by amyloids, which are largely resistant to clearance. However, other limitations imposed by the cellular environment are poorly understood. To identify cell-based restrictions on proteostasis capacity, we determined the mechanism by which thermal stress cures the [PSI+]/Sup35 prion. Remarkably, Sup35 amyloid is disassembled at elevated temperatures by the molecular chaperone Hsp104. This process requires Hsp104 engagement with heat-induced non-prion aggregates in late cell-cycle stage cells, which promotes its asymmetric retention and thereby effective activity. Thus, cell division imposes a potent limitation on proteostasis capacity that can be bypassed by the spatial engagement of a quality control factor.
Proteins must fold into specific shapes to work inside cells, and the misfolding of proteins is associated with a growing number of diseases. For example, prions are misfolded proteins that form insoluble aggregates called amyloids. These aggregates are not easily destroyed and can cause other nearby proteins to misfold and join the amyloid. This process of amyloid assembly leads to progressive diseases such as mad cow disease, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, which are collectively known as amyloidoses.
A series of biological pathways called the proteostasis network control protein integrity in a cell. Under normal conditions or even mildly stressful conditions—such as at slightly increased temperatures—the proteostasis network is able to prevent proteins from misfolding. However, if a cell is placed under lots of stress this network may become overwhelmed and misfolded proteins can accumulate. To date, the proteostasis network has not been linked to the clearance of amyloids.
A protein called Sup35, which is found in budding yeast, can exist as two different prion forms. Previous studies have shown that briefly heating the yeast cells can ‘cure’ the so-called ‘weak’ form of the prion. The ‘strong’ prion form, however, was thought to be unaffected by elevated temperature. These previous studies had only tested yeast cells that had been dividing for a few generations; it was unknown if cells that had been dividing for longer might respond differently.
Klaips et al. found that a protein called Hsp104—which helps to fold proteins properly—can break down the amyloid aggregates. This protein is normally only present in small amounts, but heating causes the levels of Hsp104 to rise. Klaips et al. found that the extra Hsp104 protein associated with the aggregates and led to their disassembly. When Hsp104 was prevented from associating with the prions, the aggregates were not cured even if high levels of Hsp104 were present in the cell.
When budding yeast form new cells, a daughter cell ‘buds’ off from the mother cell. Klaips et al. found that mother cells exposed to heat retain most of the Hsp104 when the cell divides, and this retention allowed Hsp104 to accumulate to a level required for the breakdown of amyloid aggregates. Therefore, under normal conditions, amyloids persist because cell division keeps the amount of Hsp104 below this threshold.
Previously it had been thought that the physical characteristics of amyloids accounted for their resilience in the face of the cell mechanisms designed to counteract protein misfolding. However, Klaips et al. show that the balance of the different mechanisms involved in proteostasis can be manipulated to create environments where amyloids are either created and maintained or destroyed. Targeting these mechanisms could therefore present new treatment options for amyloidosis.