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1.  Appearance and Propagation of Polyglutamine-based Amyloids in Yeast 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2008;283(22):15185-15192.
In yeast, fragmentation of amyloid polymers by the Hsp104 chaperone allows them to propagate as prions. The prion-forming domain of the yeast Sup35 protein is rich in glutamine, asparagine, tyrosine, and glycine residues, which may define its prion properties. Long polyglutamine stretches can also drive amyloid polymerization in yeast, but these polymers are unable to propagate because of poor fragmentation and exist through constant seeding with the Rnq1 prion polymers. We proposed that fragmentation of polyglutamine amyloids may be improved by incorporation of hydrophobic amino acid residues into polyglutamine stretches. To investigate this, we constructed sets of polyglutamine with or without tyrosine stretches fused to the non-prion domains of Sup35. Polymerization of these chimeras started rapidly, and its efficiency increased with stretch size. Polymerization of proteins with polyglutamine stretches shorter than 70 residues required Rnq1 prion seeds. Proteins with longer stretches polymerized independently of Rnq1 and thus could propagate. The presence of tyrosines within polyglutamine stretches dramatically enhanced polymer fragmentation and allowed polymer propagation in the absence of Rnq1 and, in some cases, of Hsp104.
PMCID: PMC2397454  PMID: 18381282
2.  Prion and Nonprion Amyloids 
Prion  2007;1(3):179-184.
Yeast prion determinants are related to polymerization of some proteins into amyloid-like fibers. The [PSI+] determinant reflects polymerization of the Sup35 protein. Fragmentation of prion polymers by the Hsp104 chaperone represents a key step of the prion replication cycle. The frequency of fragmentation varies depending on the structure of the prion polymers and defines variation in the prion phenotypes, e.g., the suppressor strength of [PSI+] and stability of its inheritance. Besides [PSI+], overproduction of Sup35 can produce nonheritable phenotypically silent Sup35 amyloid-like polymers. These polymers are fragmented poorly and are present due to efficient seeding with the Rnq1 prion polymers, which occurs by several orders of magnitude more frequently than seeding of [PSI+] appearance. Such Sup35 polymers resemble human nonprion amyloids by their nonheritability, mode of appearance and increased size. Thus, a single protein, Sup35, can model both prion and nonprion amyloids. In yeast, these phenomena are distinguished by the frequency of polymer fragmentation. We argue that in mammals the fragmentation frequency also represents a key factor defining differing properties of prion and nonprion amyloids, including infectivity. By analogy with the Rnq1 seeding of nonheritable Sup35 polymers, the “species barrier” in prion transmission may be due to seeding by heterologous prion of nontransmissible type of amyloid, rather than due to the lack of seeding.
PMCID: PMC2634591  PMID: 19164899
amyloid; prion; Rnq1; Sup35; Ure2; translation termination; yeast
3.  Functional Diversification of Hsp40: Distinct J-Protein Functional Requirements for Two Prions Allow for Chaperone-Dependent Prion Selection 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(7):e1004510.
Yeast prions are heritable amyloid aggregates of functional yeast proteins; their propagation to subsequent cell generations is dependent upon fragmentation of prion protein aggregates by molecular chaperone proteins. Mounting evidence indicates the J-protein Sis1 may act as an amyloid specificity factor, recognizing prion and other amyloid aggregates and enabling Ssa and Hsp104 to act in prion fragmentation. Chaperone interactions with prions, however, can be affected by variations in amyloid-core structure resulting in distinct prion variants or ‘strains’. Our genetic analysis revealed that Sis1 domain requirements by distinct variants of [PSI+] are strongly dependent upon overall variant stability. Notably, multiple strong [PSI+] variants can be maintained by a minimal construct of Sis1 consisting of only the J-domain and glycine/phenylalanine-rich (G/F) region that was previously shown to be sufficient for cell viability and [RNQ+] prion propagation. In contrast, weak [PSI+] variants are lost under the same conditions but maintained by the expression of an Sis1 construct that lacks only the G/F region and cannot support [RNQ+] propagation, revealing mutually exclusive requirements for Sis1 function between these two prions. Prion loss is not due to [PSI+]-dependent toxicity or dependent upon a particular yeast genetic background. These observations necessitate that Sis1 must have at least two distinct functional roles that individual prions differentially require for propagation and which are localized to the glycine-rich domains of the Sis1. Based on these distinctions, Sis1 plasmid-shuffling in a [PSI+]/[RNQ+] strain permitted J-protein-dependent prion selection for either prion. We also found that, despite an initial report to the contrary, the human homolog of Sis1, Hdj1, is capable of [PSI+] prion propagation in place of Sis1. This conservation of function is also prion-variant dependent, indicating that only one of the two Sis1-prion functions may have been maintained in eukaryotic chaperone evolution.
Author Summary
Multiple neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are associated with the accumulation of fibrous protein aggregates collectively termed ‘amyloid.’ In the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, multiple proteins form intracellular amyloid aggregates known as yeast prions. Yeast prions minimally require a core set of chaperone proteins for stable propagation in yeast, including the J-protein Sis1, which appears to be required for the propagation of all yeast prions and functioning similarly in each case. Here we present evidence which challenges the notion of a universal function for Sis1 in prion propagation and asserts instead that Sis1's function in the maintenance of at least two prions, [RNQ+] and [PSI+], is distinct and mutually exclusive for some prion variants. We also find that the human homolog of Sis1, called Hdj1, has retained the ability to support some, but not all yeast prions, indicating a partial conservation of function. Because yeast chaperones have the ability to both bind and fragment amyloids in vivo, further investigations into these prion-specific properties of Sis1 and Hdj1 will likely lead to new insights into the biological management of protein misfolding.
PMCID: PMC4109904  PMID: 25058638
4.  Small Heat Shock Proteins Potentiate Amyloid Dissolution by Protein Disaggregases from Yeast and Humans 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(6):e1001346.
The authors define how small heat-shock proteins synergize to regulate the assembly and disassembly of a beneficial prion, and then they exploit this knowledge to identify the human amyloid depolymerase.
How small heat shock proteins (sHsps) might empower proteostasis networks to control beneficial prions or disassemble pathological amyloid is unknown. Here, we establish that yeast sHsps, Hsp26 and Hsp42, inhibit prionogenesis by the [PSI+] prion protein, Sup35, via distinct and synergistic mechanisms. Hsp42 prevents conformational rearrangements within molten oligomers that enable de novo prionogenesis and collaborates with Hsp70 to attenuate self-templating. By contrast, Hsp26 inhibits self-templating upon binding assembled prions. sHsp binding destabilizes Sup35 prions and promotes their disaggregation by Hsp104, Hsp70, and Hsp40. In yeast, Hsp26 or Hsp42 overexpression prevents [PSI+] induction, cures [PSI+], and potentiates [PSI+]-curing by Hsp104 overexpression. In vitro, sHsps enhance Hsp104-catalyzed disaggregation of pathological amyloid forms of α-synuclein and polyglutamine. Unexpectedly, in the absence of Hsp104, sHsps promote an unprecedented, gradual depolymerization of Sup35 prions by Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. This unanticipated amyloid-depolymerase activity is conserved from yeast to humans, which lack Hsp104 orthologues. A human sHsp, HspB5, stimulates depolymerization of α-synuclein amyloid by human Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. Thus, we elucidate a heretofore-unrecognized human amyloid-depolymerase system that could have applications in various neurodegenerative disorders.
Author Summary
Amyloid fibers are protein aggregates that are associated with numerous neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's disease, for which there are no effective treatments. They can also play beneficial roles; in yeast, for example, they are associated with increased survival and the evolution of new traits. Amyloid fibers are also central to many revolutionary concepts and important questions in biology and nanotechnology, including long-term memory formation and versatile self-organizing nanostructures. Thus, there is an urgent need to understand how we can promote beneficial amyloid assembly, or reverse pathogenic assembly, at will. In this study, we define the mechanisms by which small heat-shock proteins synergize to regulate the assembly and disassembly of a beneficial yeast prion. We then exploit this knowledge to discover an amyloid depolymerase machinery that is conserved from yeast to humans. Remarkably, the human small heat shock protein, HspB5, stimulates Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40 chaperones to gradually depolymerize amyloid fibers formed by α-synuclein (which are implicated in Parkinson's disease) from their ends on a biologically relevant timescale. This newly identified and highly conserved amyloid-depolymerase system could have important therapeutic applications for various neurodegenerative disorders.
PMCID: PMC3378601  PMID: 22723742
5.  Could yeast prion domains originate from polyQ/N tracts? 
Prion  2013;7(3):209-214.
A significant body of evidence shows that polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts are important for various biological functions. The characteristic polymorphism of polyQ length is thought to play an important role in the adaptation of organisms to their environment. However, proteins with expanded polyQ are prone to form amyloids, which cause diseases in humans and animals and toxicity in yeast. Saccharomyces cerevisiae contain at least 8 proteins which can form heritable amyloids, called prions, and most of them are proteins with glutamine- and asparagine-enriched domains. Yeast prion amyloids are susceptible to fragmentation by the protein disaggregase Hsp104, which allows them to propagate and be transmitted to daughter cells during cell divisions. We have previously shown that interspersion of polyQ domains with some non-glutamine residues stimulates fragmentation of polyQ amyloids in yeast and that yeast prion domains are often enriched in one of these residues. These findings indicate that yeast prion domains may have derived from polyQ tracts via accumulation and amplification of mutations. The same hypothesis may be applied to polyasparagine (polyN) tracts, since they display similar properties to polyQ, such as length polymorphism, amyloid formation and toxicity. We propose that mutations in polyQ/N may be favored by natural selection thus making prion domains likely by-products of the evolution of polyQ/N.
PMCID: PMC3783105  PMID: 23764835
amyloid; Hsp104; polyglutamine; polyasparagine; polyQ; polyN; prion; yeast
6.  Increasing Prion Propensity by Hydrophobic Insertion 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89286.
Prion formation involves the conversion of proteins from a soluble form into an infectious amyloid form. Most yeast prion proteins contain glutamine/asparagine-rich regions that are responsible for prion aggregation. Prion formation by these domains is driven primarily by amino acid composition, not primary sequence, yet there is a surprising disconnect between the amino acids thought to have the highest aggregation propensity and those that are actually found in yeast prion domains. Specifically, a recent mutagenic screen suggested that both aromatic and non-aromatic hydrophobic residues strongly promote prion formation. However, while aromatic residues are common in yeast prion domains, non-aromatic hydrophobic residues are strongly under-represented. Here, we directly test the effects of hydrophobic and aromatic residues on prion formation. Remarkably, we found that insertion of as few as two hydrophobic residues resulted in a multiple orders-of-magnitude increase in prion formation, and significant acceleration of in vitro amyloid formation. Thus, insertion or deletion of hydrophobic residues provides a simple tool to control the prion activity of a protein. These data, combined with bioinformatics analysis, suggest a limit on the number of strongly prion-promoting residues tolerated in glutamine/asparagine-rich domains. This limit may explain the under-representation of non-aromatic hydrophobic residues in yeast prion domains. Prion activity requires not only that a protein be able to form prion fibers, but also that these fibers be cleaved to generate new independently-segregating aggregates to offset dilution by cell division. Recent studies suggest that aromatic residues, but not non-aromatic hydrophobic residues, support the fiber cleavage step. Therefore, we propose that while both aromatic and non-aromatic hydrophobic residues promote prion formation, aromatic residues are favored in yeast prion domains because they serve a dual function, promoting both prion formation and chaperone-dependent prion propagation.
PMCID: PMC3930707  PMID: 24586661
7.  Hsp40s Specify Functions of Hsp104 and Hsp90 Protein Chaperone Machines 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004720.
Hsp100 family chaperones of microorganisms and plants cooperate with the Hsp70/Hsp40/NEF system to resolubilize and reactivate stress-denatured proteins. In yeast this machinery also promotes propagation of prions by fragmenting prion polymers. We previously showed the bacterial Hsp100 machinery cooperates with the yeast Hsp40 Ydj1 to support yeast thermotolerance and with the yeast Hsp40 Sis1 to propagate [PSI+] prions. Here we find these Hsp40s similarly directed specific activities of the yeast Hsp104-based machinery. By assessing the ability of Ydj1-Sis1 hybrid proteins to complement Ydj1 and Sis1 functions we show their C-terminal substrate-binding domains determined distinctions in these and other cellular functions of Ydj1 and Sis1. We find propagation of [URE3] prions was acutely sensitive to alterations in Sis1 activity, while that of [PIN+] prions was less sensitive than [URE3], but more sensitive than [PSI+]. These findings support the ideas that overexpressing Ydj1 cures [URE3] by competing with Sis1 for interaction with the Hsp104-based disaggregation machine, and that different prions rely differently on activity of this machinery, which can explain the various ways they respond to alterations in chaperone function.
Author Summary
The cellular chaperone machinery helps proteins adopt and maintain native conformations and protects cells from stress. The yeast Hsp40s Ydj1 and Sis1 are co-chaperones that regulate Hsp70s, which are key components of many chaperone complexes. Both of these Hsp40s are crucial for growth and Ydj1 directs disaggregation activity of the Hsp100-based machinery to provide stress protection while Sis1 directs this activity to promote prion replication. Ydj1 also cures yeast of certain prions when overexpressed. We show that C-terminal domains that possess substrate-binding function of Ydj1 and Sis1 can mediate these and other functional distinctions and that the degree that prions depend on Sis1 activities could underlie differences in how they respond to alterations of chaperones. These findings support a view that Hsp40s regulate and specify functions of the chaperone machinery through substrate discrimination and cooperation with Hsp70. The disproportionate evolutionary expansion of Hsp40s (J-proteins) relative to their Hsp70 partners led to a proposal that this amplification allows increased regulation and fine-tuning of chaperone machines for increasingly complex processes. Our findings support this idea and provide insight into fundamental aspects of this cooperation.
PMCID: PMC4199505  PMID: 25329162
8.  Regulation of the Hsp104 Middle Domain Activity Is Critical for Yeast Prion Propagation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87521.
Molecular chaperones play a significant role in preventing protein misfolding and aggregation. Indeed, some protein conformational disorders have been linked to changes in the chaperone network. Curiously, in yeast, chaperones also play a role in promoting prion maintenance and propagation. While many amyloidogenic proteins are associated with disease in mammals, yeast prion proteins, and their ability to undergo conformational conversion into a prion state, are proposed to play a functional role in yeast biology. The chaperone Hsp104, a AAA+ ATPase, is essential for yeast prion propagation. Hsp104 fragments large prion aggregates to generate a population of smaller oligomers that can more readily convert soluble monomer and be transmitted to daughter cells. Here, we show that the middle (M) domain of Hsp104, and its mobility, plays an integral part in prion propagation. We generated and characterized mutations in the M-domain of Hsp104 that are predicted to stabilize either a repressed or de-repressed conformation of the M-domain (by analogy to ClpB in bacteria). We show that the predicted stabilization of the repressed conformation inhibits general chaperone activity. Mutation to the de-repressed conformation, however, has differential effects on ATP hydrolysis and disaggregation, suggesting that the M-domain is involved in coupling these two activities. Interestingly, we show that changes in the M-domain differentially affect the propagation of different variants of the [PSI+] and [RNQ+] prions, which indicates that some prion variants are more sensitive to changes in the M-domain mobility than others. Thus, we provide evidence that regulation of the M-domain of Hsp104 is critical for efficient prion propagation. This shows the importance of elucidating the function of the M-domain in order to understand the role of Hsp104 in the propagation of different prions and prion variants.
PMCID: PMC3900729  PMID: 24466354
9.  Heterologous Aggregates Promote De Novo Prion Appearance via More than One Mechanism 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(1):e1004814.
Prions are self-perpetuating conformational variants of particular proteins. In yeast, prions cause heritable phenotypic traits. Most known yeast prions contain a glutamine (Q)/asparagine (N)-rich region in their prion domains. [PSI+], the prion form of Sup35, appears de novo at dramatically enhanced rates following transient overproduction of Sup35 in the presence of [PIN+], the prion form of Rnq1. Here, we establish the temporal de novo appearance of Sup35 aggregates during such overexpression in relation to other cellular proteins. Fluorescently-labeled Sup35 initially forms one or a few dots when overexpressed in [PIN+] cells. One of the dots is perivacuolar, colocalizes with the aggregated Rnq1 dot and grows into peripheral rings/lines, some of which also colocalize with Rnq1. Sup35 dots that are not near the vacuole do not always colocalize with Rnq1 and disappear by the time rings start to grow. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation failed to detect any interaction between Sup35-VN and Rnq1-VC in [PSI+][PIN+] cells. In contrast, all Sup35 aggregates, whether newly induced or in established [PSI+], completely colocalize with the molecular chaperones Hsp104, Sis1, Ssa1 and eukaryotic release factor Sup45. In the absence of [PIN+], overexpressed aggregating proteins such as the Q/N-rich Pin4C or the non-Q/N-rich Mod5 can also promote the de novo appearance of [PSI+]. Similar to Rnq1, overexpressed Pin4C transiently colocalizes with newly appearing Sup35 aggregates. However, no interaction was detected between Mod5 and Sup35 during [PSI+] induction in the absence of [PIN+]. While the colocalization of Sup35 and aggregates of Rnq1 or Pin4C are consistent with the model that the heterologous aggregates cross-seed the de novo appearance of [PSI+], the lack of interaction between Mod5 and Sup35 leaves open the possibility of other mechanisms. We also show that Hsp104 is required in the de novo appearance of [PSI+] aggregates in a [PIN+]-independent pathway.
Author Summary
Certain proteins can misfold into β-sheet-rich, self-seeding aggregates. Such proteins appear to be associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as prion, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Yeast prions also misfold into self-seeding aggregates and provide a good model to study how these rogue polymers first appear. De novo prion appearance can be made very frequent in yeast by transient overexpression of the prion protein in the presence of heterologous prions or prion-like aggregates. Here, we show that the aggregates of one such newly induced prion are initially formed in a dot-like structure near the vacuole. These dots then grow into rings at the periphery of the cell prior to becoming smaller rings surrounding the vacuole and maturing into the characteristic heritable prion tiny dots found throughout the cytoplasm. We found considerable colocalization of two heterologous prion/prion-like aggregates with the newly appearing prion protein aggregates, which is consistent with the prevalent model that existing prion aggregates can cross-seed the de novo aggregation of a heterologous prion protein. However, we failed to find any physical interaction between another heterologous aggregating protein and the newly appearing prion aggregates it stimulated to appear, which is inconsistent with cross-seeding.
PMCID: PMC4287349  PMID: 25568955
10.  Spatial quality control bypasses cell-based limitations on proteostasis to promote prion curing 
eLife  null;3:e04288.
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.
eLife digest
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.
PMCID: PMC4270096  PMID: 25490068
chaperone; protein misfolding; amyloid; prion; S. cerevisiae
11.  Contribution of Specific Residues of the β-Solenoid Fold to HET-s Prion Function, Amyloid Structure and Stability 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(6):e1004158.
The [Het-s] prion of the fungus Podospora anserina represents a good model system for studying the structure-function relationship in amyloid proteins because a high resolution solid-state NMR structure of the amyloid prion form of the HET-s prion forming domain (PFD) is available. The HET-s PFD adopts a specific β-solenoid fold with two rungs of β-strands delimiting a triangular hydrophobic core. A C-terminal loop folds back onto the rigid core region and forms a more dynamic semi-hydrophobic pocket extending the hydrophobic core. Herein, an alanine scanning mutagenesis of the HET-s PFD was conducted. Different structural elements identified in the prion fold such as the triangular hydrophobic core, the salt bridges, the asparagines ladders and the C-terminal loop were altered and the effect of these mutations on prion function, fibril structure and stability was assayed. Prion activity and structure were found to be very robust; only a few key mutations were able to corrupt structure and function. While some mutations strongly destabilize the fold, many substitutions in fact increase stability of the fold. This increase in structural stability did not influence prion formation propensity in vivo. However, if an Ala replacement did alter the structure of the core or did influence the shape of the denaturation curve, the corresponding variant showed a decreased prion efficacy. It is also the finding that in addition to the structural elements of the rigid core region, the aromatic residues in the C-terminal semi-hydrophobic pocket are critical for prion propagation. Mutations in the latter region either positively or negatively affected prion formation. We thus identify a region that modulates prion formation although it is not part of the rigid cross-β core, an observation that might be relevant to other amyloid models.
Author Summary
Prions are infectious protein particles causing fatal diseases in mammals. Prions correspond to self-perpetuating amyloid protein polymers. Prions also exist in fungi where they behave as cytoplasmic infectious elements. The [Het-s] prion of the fungus Podospora anserina constitutes a favorable model for the analysis of the structural basis of prion propagation because a high resolution structure of the prion form of [Het-s] is available, a situation so far unique to this prion model. We have analyzed the relation between [Het-s] structure and function using alanine scanning mutagenesis. We have generated 32 single amino acid variants of the prion forming domain and analyzed their prion function in vivo and structure by solid-state NMR. We find that the PFD structure is very robust and that only a few key mutations affect prion structure and function. In addition, we find that a C-terminal semi-flexible loop plays a critical role in prion propagation although it is not part of rigid amyloid core. This study offers insights on the structural basis of prion propagation and illustrates that accessory regions outside of the amyloid core can critically participate in prion function, an observation that could be relevant to other amyloid models.
PMCID: PMC4055769  PMID: 24945274
12.  Discovering putative prion sequences in complete proteomes using probabilistic representations of Q/N-rich domains 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:316.
Prion proteins conform a special class among amyloids due to their ability to transmit aggregative folds. Prions are known to act as infectious agents in neurodegenerative diseases in animals, or as key elements in transcription and translation processes in yeast. It has been suggested that prions contain specific sequential domains with distinctive amino acid composition and physicochemical properties that allow them to control the switch between soluble and β-sheet aggregated states. Those prion-forming domains are low complexity segments enriched in glutamine/asparagine and depleted in charged residues and prolines. Different predictive methods have been developed to discover novel prions by either assessing the compositional bias of these stretches or estimating the propensity of protein sequences to form amyloid aggregates. However, the available algorithms hitherto lack a thorough statistical calibration against large sequence databases, which makes them unable to accurately predict prions without retrieving a large number of false positives.
Here we present a computational strategy to predict putative prion-forming proteins in complete proteomes using probabilistic representations of prionogenic glutamine/asparagine rich regions. After benchmarking our predictive model against large sets of non-prionic sequences, we were able to filter out known prions with high precision and accuracy, generating prediction sets with few false positives. The algorithm was used to scan all the proteomes annotated in public databases for the presence of putative prion proteins. We analyzed the presence of putative prion proteins in all taxa, from viruses and archaea to plants and higher eukaryotes, and found that most organisms encode evolutionarily unrelated proteins with susceptibility to behave as prions.
To our knowledge, this is the first wide-ranging study aiming to predict prion domains in complete proteomes. Approaches of this kind could be of great importance to identify potential targets for further experimental testing and to try to reach a deeper understanding of prions’ functional and regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3654983  PMID: 23663289
Prion domain; Protein aggregation; Amyloid fibrils; Prion prediction
13.  Polyglutamine Toxicity Is Controlled by Prion Composition and Gene Dosage in Yeast 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(4):e1002634.
Polyglutamine expansion causes diseases in humans and other mammals. One example is Huntington's disease. Fragments of human huntingtin protein having an expanded polyglutamine stretch form aggregates and cause cytotoxicity in yeast cells bearing endogenous QN-rich proteins in the aggregated (prion) form. Attachment of the proline(P)-rich region targets polyglutamines to the large perinuclear deposit (aggresome). Aggresome formation ameliorates polyglutamine cytotoxicity in cells containing only the prion form of Rnq1 protein. Here we show that expanded polyglutamines both with (poly-QP) or without (poly-Q) a P-rich stretch remain toxic in the presence of the prion form of translation termination (release) factor Sup35 (eRF3). A Sup35 derivative that lacks the QN-rich domain and is unable to be incorporated into aggregates counteracts cytotoxicity, suggesting that toxicity is due to Sup35 sequestration. Increase in the levels of another release factor, Sup45 (eRF1), due to either disomy by chromosome II containing the SUP45 gene or to introduction of the SUP45-bearing plasmid counteracts poly-Q or poly-QP toxicity in the presence of the Sup35 prion. Protein analysis confirms that polyglutamines alter aggregation patterns of Sup35 and promote aggregation of Sup45, while excess Sup45 counteracts these effects. Our data show that one and the same mode of polyglutamine aggregation could be cytoprotective or cytotoxic, depending on the composition of other aggregates in a eukaryotic cell, and demonstrate that other aggregates expand the range of proteins that are susceptible to sequestration by polyglutamines.
Author Summary
Polyglutamine diseases, including Huntington disease, are associated with expansions of polyglutamine tracts, resulting in aggregation of respective proteins. The severity of Huntington disease is controlled by both DNA and non–DNA factors. Mechanisms of such a control are poorly understood. Polyglutamine may sequester other cellular proteins; however, different experimental models have pointed to different sequestered proteins. By using a yeast model, we demonstrate that the mechanism of polyglutamine toxicity is driven by the composition of other (endogenous) aggregates (for example, yeast prions) present in a eukaryotic cell. Although these aggregates do not necessarily cause significant toxicity on their own, they serve as mediators in protein sequestration and therefore determine which specific proteins are to be sequestered by polyglutamines. We also show that polyglutamine deposition into an aggresome, a perinuclear compartment thought to be cytoprotective, fails to ameliorate cytotoxicity in cells with certain compositions of pre-existing aggregates. Finally, we demonstrate that an increase in the dosage of a sequestered protein due to aneuploidy by a chromosome carrying a respective gene may rescue cytotoxicity. Our data shed light on genetic and epigenetic mechanisms modulating polyglutamine cytotoxicity and establish a new approach for identifying potential therapeutic targets through characterization of the endogenous aggregated proteins.
PMCID: PMC3334884  PMID: 22536159
14.  Destruction or potentiation of different prions catalyzed by similar Hsp104 remodeling activities 
Molecular cell  2006;23(3):425-438.
Yeast prions are protein-based genetic elements that self-perpetuate changes in protein conformation and function. A protein-remodeling factor, Hsp104, controls the inheritance of several yeast prions, including those formed by Sup35 and Ure2. Perplexingly, deletion of Hsp104 eliminates Sup35 and Ure2 prions, whereas overexpression of Hsp104 purges cells of Sup35 prions, but not Ure2 prions. Here, we used pure components to dissect how Hsp104 regulates prion formation, growth, and division. For both Sup35 and Ure2, Hsp104 catalyzes de novo prion nucleation from soluble, native protein. Using a distinct mechanism, Hsp104 fragments both prions to generate new prion assembly surfaces. For Sup35, the fragmentation endpoint is an ensemble of non-infectious, amyloid-like aggregates and soluble protein that cannot replicate conformation. In vivid distinction, the endpoint of Ure2 fragmentation is short prion fibers with enhanced infectivity and self-replicating ability. These advances explain the distinct effects of Hsp104 on the inheritance of the two prions.
PMCID: PMC1540446  PMID: 16885031
15.  Dissection and Design of Yeast Prions 
PLoS Biology  2004;2(4):e86.
Many proteins can misfold into β-sheet-rich, self-seeding polymers (amyloids). Prions are exceptional among such aggregates in that they are also infectious. In fungi, prions are not pathogenic but rather act as epigenetic regulators of cell physiology, providing a powerful model for studying the mechanism of prion replication. We used prion-forming domains from two budding yeast proteins (Sup35p and New1p) to examine the requirements for prion formation and inheritance. In both proteins, a glutamine/asparagine-rich (Q/N-rich) tract mediates sequence-specific aggregation, while an adjacent motif, the oligopeptide repeat, is required for the replication and stable inheritance of these aggregates. Our findings help to explain why although Q/N-rich proteins are relatively common, few form heritable aggregates: prion inheritance requires both an aggregation sequence responsible for self-seeded growth and an element that permits chaperone-dependent replication of the aggregate. Using this knowledge, we have designed novel artificial prions by fusing the replication element of Sup35p to aggregation-prone sequences from other proteins, including pathogenically expanded polyglutamine.
Artificial prions - infectious, misfolded proteins - can be created by fusing the replication element of one prion to aggregation sequences from another
PMCID: PMC374241  PMID: 15045026
16.  Prion Formation and Polyglutamine Aggregation Are Controlled by Two Classes of Genes 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(5):e1001386.
Prions are self-perpetuating aggregated proteins that are not limited to mammalian systems but also exist in lower eukaryotes including yeast. While much work has focused around chaperones involved in prion maintenance, including Hsp104, little is known about factors involved in the appearance of prions. De novo appearance of the [PSI+] prion, which is the aggregated form of the Sup35 protein, is dramatically enhanced by transient overexpression of SUP35 in the presence of the prion form of the Rnq1 protein, [PIN+]. When fused to GFP and overexpressed in [ps−] [PIN+] cells, Sup35 forms fluorescent rings, and cells with these rings bud off [PSI+] daughters. We investigated the effects of over 400 gene deletions on this de novo induction of [PSI+]. Two classes of gene deletions were identified. Class I deletions (bug1Δ, bem1Δ, arf1Δ, and hog1Δ) reduced the efficiency of [PSI+] induction, but formed rings normally. Class II deletions (las17Δ, vps5Δ, and sac6Δ) inhibited both [PSI+] induction and ring formation. Furthermore, class II deletions reduced, while class I deletions enhanced, toxicity associated with the expanded glutamine repeats of the huntingtin protein exon 1 that causes Huntington's disease. This suggests that prion formation and polyglutamine aggregation involve a multi-phase process that can be inhibited at different steps.
Author Summary
Certain proteins that exist in functional unaggregated conformers can also form self-perpetuating infectious aggregates called prions. Here we investigate factors involved in the initial switch to the prion form. De novo appearance of the [PSI+] prion, which is the aggregated form of the Sup35 protein, is dramatically enhanced by overexpression of the SUP35 gene in the presence of the prion form of the Rnq1 protein, [PIN+]. When tagged with green fluorescent protein and transiently overexpressed in [psi−] [PIN+] cells, Sup35 forms fluorescent rings, and cells with these rings give rise to daughter cells that are [PSI+]. Here, we investigate factors required for this induction of [PSI+]. Analyses of over 400 gene deletions revealed two classes that reduce [PSI+] induction: one class forms fluorescent rings normally, and the other does not. Interestingly, the former class enhanced, while the latter class reduced, toxicity associated with the expanded polyglutamine repeats of the huntingtin protein exon 1 that causes Huntington's disease. These results suggest that prion formation and polyglutamine aggregation involve a multi-phase process that can be inhibited at different steps.
PMCID: PMC3098188  PMID: 21625618
17.  Prion propagation by Hsp40 molecular chaperones 
Prion  2009;3(2):59-64.
Molecular chaperones regulate essential steps in the propagation of yeast prions. Yeast prions possess domains enriched in glutamines and asparagines that act as templates to drive the assembly of native proteins into beta-sheet-rich, amyloid-like fibrils. Several recent studies highlight a significant and complex function for Hsp40 co-chaperones in propagation of prion elements in yeast. Hsp40 co-chaperones bind non-native polypeptides and transfer these clients to Hsp70s for refolding or degradation. How Hsp40 co-chaperones bind amyloid-like prion conformers that are enriched in hydrophilic residues such as glutamines and asparagines is a significant question in the field. Interestingly, selective recognition of amyloid-like conformers by distinct Hsp40s appears to confer opposing actions on prion assembly. For example, the Type I Hsp40 Ydj1 and Type II Hsp40 Sis1 bind different regions within the prion protein Rnq1 and function respectively to inhibit or promote [RNQ+] prion assembly. Thus, substrate selectivity enables distinct Hsp40s to act at unique steps in prion propagation.
PMCID: PMC2712600  PMID: 19535913
Hsp40; Ydj1; Sis1; amyloid; prion; Rnq1; J-protein; Hsp70
18.  Destabilization and recovery of a yeast prion after mild heat shock 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;408(3):432-448.
Yeast prion [PSI+] is a self-perpetuating amyloid of the translational termination factor Sup35. Although [PSI+] propagation is modulated by heat shock proteins (Hsps), high temperature was previously reported to have little or no effect on [PSI+]. Our results show that short-term exposure of exponentially growing yeast culture to mild heat shock, followed by immediate resumption of growth, leads to [PSI+] destabilization, sometimes persisting for several cell divisions after heat shock. Prion loss occurring in the first division after heat shock is preferentially detected in a daughter cell, indicating the impairment of prion segregation that results in asymmetric prion distribution between a mother cell and a bud. Longer heat shock or prolonged incubation in the absence of nutrients after heat shock lead to [PSI+] recovery. Both prion destabilization and recovery during heat shock depend on protein synthesis. Maximal prion destabilization coincides with maximal imbalance between Hsp104 and other Hsps such as Hsp70-Ssa. Deletions of individual SSA genes increase prion destabilization and/or counteract recovery. Dynamics of prion aggregation during destabilization and recovery is consistent with the notion that efficient prion fragmentation and segregation require a proper balance between Hsp104 and other (e. g. Hsp70-Ssa) chaperones. In contrast to heat shock, [PSI+] destabilization by osmotic stressors does not always depend on cell proliferation and/or protein synthesis, indicating that different stresses may impact the prion via different mechanisms. Our data demonstrate that heat stress causes asymmetric prion distribution in a cell division, and confirm that effects of Hsps on prions are physiologically relevant.
PMCID: PMC3095851  PMID: 21392508
Hsp; prion segregation; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; stress response; Sup35
19.  The story of stolen chaperones 
Prion  2013;7(4):294-300.
Prions are self-seeding alternate protein conformations. Most yeast prions contain glutamine/asparagine (Q/N)-rich domains that promote the formation of amyloid-like prion aggregates. Chaperones, including Hsp104 and Sis1, are required to continually break these aggregates into smaller “seeds.” Decreasing aggregate size and increasing the number of growing aggregate ends facilitates both aggregate transmission and growth. Our previous work showed that overexpression of 11 proteins with Q/N-rich domains facilitates the de novo aggregation of Sup35 into the [PSI+] prion, presumably by a cross-seeding mechanism. We now discuss our recent paper, in which we showed that overexpression of most of these same 11 Q/N-rich proteins, including Pin4C and Cyc8, destabilized pre-existing Q/N rich prions. Overexpression of both Pin4C and Cyc8 caused [PSI+] aggregates to enlarge. This is incompatible with a previously proposed “capping” model where the overexpressed Q/N-rich protein poisons, or “caps,” the growing aggregate ends. Rather the data match what is expected of a reduction in prion severing by chaperones. Indeed, while Pin4C overexpression does not alter chaperone levels, Pin4C aggregates sequester chaperones away from the prion aggregates. Cyc8 overexpression cures [PSI+] by inducing an increase in Hsp104 levels, as excess Hsp104 binds to [PSI+] aggregates in a way that blocks their shearing.
PMCID: PMC3904315  PMID: 23924684
prion; yeast; amyloid; chaperone; Hsp104; Sis1; [PSI+]; Sup35; Pin4; Cyc8
20.  [SWI+], the Prion Formed by the Chromatin Remodeling Factor Swi1, Is Highly Sensitive to Alterations in Hsp70 Chaperone System Activity 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(2):e1001309.
The yeast prion [SWI+], formed of heritable amyloid aggregates of the Swi1 protein, results in a partial loss of function of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex, required for the regulation of a diverse set of genes. Our genetic analysis revealed that [SWI+] propagation is highly dependent upon the action of members of the Hsp70 molecular chaperone system, specifically the Hsp70 Ssa, two of its J-protein co-chaperones, Sis1 and Ydj1, and the nucleotide exchange factors of the Hsp110 family (Sse1/2). Notably, while all yeast prions tested thus far require Sis1, [SWI+] is the only one known to require the activity of Ydj1, the most abundant J-protein in yeast. The C-terminal region of Ydj1, which contains the client protein interaction domain, is required for [SWI+] propagation. However, Ydj1 is not unique in this regard, as another, closely related J-protein, Apj1, can substitute for it when expressed at a level approaching that of Ydj1. While dependent upon Ydj1 and Sis1 for propagation, [SWI+] is also highly sensitive to overexpression of both J-proteins. However, this increased prion-loss requires only the highly conserved 70 amino acid J-domain, which serves to stimulate the ATPase activity of Hsp70 and thus to stabilize its interaction with client protein. Overexpression of the J-domain from Sis1, Ydj1, or Apj1 is sufficient to destabilize [SWI+]. In addition, [SWI+] is lost upon overexpression of Sse nucleotide exchange factors, which act to destabilize Hsp70's interaction with client proteins. Given the plethora of genes affected by the activity of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex, it is possible that this sensitivity of [SWI+] to the activity of Hsp70 chaperone machinery may serve a regulatory role, keeping this prion in an easily-lost, meta-stable state. Such sensitivity may provide a means to reach an optimal balance of phenotypic diversity within a cell population to better adapt to stressful environments.
Author Summary
Yeast prions are heritable genetic elements, formed spontaneously by aggregation of a single protein. Prions can thus generate diverse phenotypes in a dominant, non-Mendelian fashion, without a corresponding change in chromosomal gene structure. Since the phenotypes caused by the presence of a prion are thought to affect the ability of cells to survive under different environmental conditions, those that have global effects on cell physiology are of particular interest. Here we report the results of a study of one such prion, [SWI+], formed by a component of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex, which is required for the regulation of a diverse set of genes. We found that, compared to previously well-studied prions, [SWI+] is highly sensitive to changes in the activities of molecular chaperones, particularly components of the Hsp70 machinery. Both under- and over-expression of components of this system initiated rapid loss of the prion from the cell population. Since expression of molecular chaperones, often known as heat shock proteins, are known to vary under diverse environmental conditions, such “chaperone sensitivity” may allow alteration of traits that under particular environmental conditions convey a selective advantage and may be a common characteristic of prions formed from proteins involved in global gene regulation.
PMCID: PMC3040656  PMID: 21379326
21.  Hsp70 targets Hsp100 chaperones to substrates for protein disaggregation and prion fragmentation 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;198(3):387-404.
The Hsp70 system recruits ClpB/Hsp104 to the surface of stress-induced protein aggregates and prion fibrils.
Hsp100 and Hsp70 chaperones in bacteria, yeast, and plants cooperate to reactivate aggregated proteins. Disaggregation relies on Hsp70 function and on ATP-dependent threading of aggregated polypeptides through the pore of the Hsp100 AAA+ hexamer. In yeast, both chaperones also promote propagation of prions by fibril fragmentation, but their functional interplay is controversial. Here, we demonstrate that Hsp70 chaperones were essential for species-specific targeting of their Hsp100 partner chaperones ClpB and Hsp104, respectively, to heat-induced protein aggregates in vivo. Hsp70 inactivation in yeast also abrogated Hsp104 targeting to almost all prions tested and reduced fibril mobility, which indicates that fibril fragmentation by Hsp104 requires Hsp70. The Sup35 prion was unique in allowing Hsp70-independent association of Hsp104 via its N-terminal domain, which, however, was nonproductive. Hsp104 overproduction even outcompeted Hsp70 for Sup35 prion binding, which explains why this condition prevented Sup35 fragmentation and caused prion curing. Our findings indicate a conserved mechanism of Hsp70–Hsp100 cooperation at the surface of protein aggregates and prion fibrils.
PMCID: PMC3413357  PMID: 22869599
22.  Regulation of Chaperone Effects on a Yeast Prion by Cochaperone Sgt2 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(24):4960-4970.
Yeast prions, based on self-seeded highly ordered fibrous aggregates (amyloids), serve as a model for human amyloid diseases. Propagation of yeast prions depends on the balance between chaperones of the Hsp100 and Hsp70 families. The yeast prion [PSI+] can be eliminated by an excess of the chaperone Hsp104. This effect is reversed by an excess of the chaperone Hsp70-Ssa. Here we show that the actions of Hsp104 and Ssa on [PSI+] are modulated by the small glutamine-rich tetratricopeptide cochaperone Sgt2. Sgt2 is conserved from yeast to humans, has previously been implicated in the guided entry of tail-anchored proteins (GET) trafficking pathway, and is known to interact with Hsps, cytosolic Get proteins, and tail-anchored proteins. We demonstrate that Sgt2 increases the ability of excess Ssa to counteract [PSI+] curing by excess Hsp104. Deletion of SGT2 also restores trafficking of a tail-anchored protein in cells with a disrupted GET pathway. One region of Sgt2 interacts both with the prion domain of Sup35 and with tail-anchored proteins. Sgt2 levels are increased in response to the presence of a prion when major Hsps are not induced. Our data implicate Sgt2 as an amyloid “sensor” and a regulator of chaperone targeting to different types of aggregation-prone proteins.
PMCID: PMC3510541  PMID: 23045389
23.  Compositional Determinants of Prion Formation in Yeast▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;30(1):319-332.
Numerous prions (infectious proteins) have been identified in yeast that result from the conversion of soluble proteins into β-sheet-rich amyloid-like protein aggregates. Yeast prion formation is driven primarily by amino acid composition. However, yeast prion domains are generally lacking in the bulky hydrophobic residues most strongly associated with amyloid formation and are instead enriched in glutamines and asparagines. Glutamine/asparagine-rich domains are thought to be involved in both disease-related and beneficial amyloid formation. These domains are overrepresented in eukaryotic genomes, but predictive methods have not yet been developed to efficiently distinguish between prion and nonprion glutamine/asparagine-rich domains. We have developed a novel in vivo assay to quantitatively assess how composition affects prion formation. Using our results, we have defined the compositional features that promote prion formation, allowing us to accurately distinguish between glutamine/asparagine-rich domains that can form prion-like aggregates and those that cannot. Additionally, our results explain why traditional amyloid prediction algorithms fail to accurately predict amyloid formation by the glutamine/asparagine-rich yeast prion domains.
PMCID: PMC2798286  PMID: 19884345
24.  Prion propagation can occur in a prokaryote and requires the ClpB chaperone 
eLife  2014;3:e02949.
Prions are self-propagating protein aggregates that are characteristically transmissible. In mammals, the PrP protein can form a prion that causes the fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Prions have also been uncovered in fungi, where they act as heritable, protein-based genetic elements. We previously showed that the yeast prion protein Sup35 can access the prion conformation in Escherichia coli. Here, we demonstrate that E. coli can propagate the Sup35 prion under conditions that do not permit its de novo formation. Furthermore, we show that propagation requires the disaggregase activity of the ClpB chaperone. Prion propagation in yeast requires Hsp104 (a ClpB ortholog), and prior studies have come to conflicting conclusions about ClpB's ability to participate in this process. Our demonstration of ClpB-dependent prion propagation in E. coli suggests that the cytoplasmic milieu in general and a molecular machine in particular are poised to support protein-based heredity in the bacterial domain of life.
eLife digest
Unlike most infectious agents—such as viruses or bacteria—that contain genetic material in the form of DNA or RNA, a prion is simply an aggregate of misfolded proteins. Although they are not living organisms, these prion aggregates can self-propagate; when they enter a healthy organism, they cause existing, correctly folded proteins to adopt the prion fold. Within the aggregate, the prion proteins have a corrugated structure that allows them to stack together tightly, which in turn makes the aggregates very stable. As more prions are formed, they then trigger other protein molecules to misfold and join the aggregates, and the aggregates continue to grow and spread within the infected organism causing tissue damage and cell death.
Prion diseases are well known in mammals, where the prion aggregates typically destroy tissue within the brain or nervous system. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also commonly known as BSE or ‘mad cow disease’) is an example of a prion disease that affects cattle and can be transmitted to humans by eating infected meat. Prions also form in yeast and other fungi. These prions, however, do not cause disease or cell death; instead, yeast prions act as protein-based elements that can be inherited over multiple generations and which provide the yeast with new traits or characteristics. Although prions can form spontaneously in yeast cells, their stable propagation depends on so-called chaperone proteins that help to remodel the prion aggregates. Previous work has shown that bacterial cells can also support the formation of prion-like aggregates. The bacteria were engineered to produce two yeast prion proteins—one of which spontaneously formed aggregates that were needed to trigger the conversion of the other to its prion form. However, it was not known if bacterial cells could support the stable propagation of prions if the initial trigger for prion conversion was removed.
Yuan et al. now reveal that the bacterium Escherichia coli can propagate a yeast prion for over a hundred generations, even when the cells can no longer make the protein that serves as the trigger for the initial conversion. This propagation depends on a bacterial chaperone protein called ClpB, which is related to another chaperone protein that is required for stable prion propagation in yeast. As such, the findings of Yuan et al. raise the possibility that, even though a prion specific to bacteria has yet to be identified, prions or prion-like proteins might also contribute to the diversity of traits found in bacteria. Furthermore, since both yeast and bacteria form and propagate prions in similar ways, such protein-based inheritance might have evolved in these organisms' common ancestor over two billion years ago.
PMCID: PMC4150125  PMID: 25122461
prions; chaperones; Sup35; ClpB; protein-based heredity; E. coli; S. cerevisiae
25.  Distinct Type of Transmission Barrier Revealed by Study of Multiple Prion Determinants of Rnq1 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(1):e1000824.
Prions are self-propagating protein conformations. Transmission of the prion state between non-identical proteins, e.g. between homologous proteins from different species, is frequently inefficient. Transmission barriers are attributed to sequence differences in prion proteins, but their underlying mechanisms are not clear. Here we use a yeast Rnq1/[PIN+]-based experimental system to explore the nature of transmission barriers. [PIN+], the prion form of Rnq1, is common in wild and laboratory yeast strains, where it facilitates the appearance of other prions. Rnq1's prion domain carries four discrete QN-rich regions. We start by showing that Rnq1 encompasses multiple prion determinants that can independently drive amyloid formation in vitro and transmit the [PIN+] prion state in vivo. Subsequent analysis of [PIN+] transmission between Rnq1 fragments with different sets of prion determinants established that (i) one common QN-rich region is required and usually sufficient for the transmission; (ii) despite identical sequences of the common QNs, such transmissions are impeded by barriers of different strength. Existence of transmission barriers in the absence of amino acid mismatches in transmitting regions indicates that in complex prion domains multiple prion determinants act cooperatively to attain the final prion conformation, and reveals transmission barriers determined by this cooperative fold.
Author Summary
Prions, self-propagating protein conformations and causative agents of lethal neurodegenerative diseases, present a serious public health threat: they can arise sporadically and then spread by transmission to the same, as well as other, species. The risk of infecting humans with prions originating in wild and domestic animals is determined by the so-called transmission barriers. These barriers are attributed to differences in prion proteins from different species, but their underlying mechanisms are not clear. Recent findings that the prion state is transmitted through the interaction between short transmitting regions within prion domains revealed one type of transmission barrier, where productive templating is impeded by non-matching amino acids within transmitting regions. Here we present studies of the prion domain of the [PIN+]-forming protein, Rnq1, and describe a distinct type of transmission barrier not involving individual amino acid mismatches in the transmitting regions. Rnq1's prion domain is complex and encompasses four regions that can independently transmit the prion state. Our data suggest that multiple prion determinants of a complex prion domain act cooperatively to attain the prion conformation, and transmission barriers occur between protein variants that cannot form the same higher order structure, despite the identity of the region(s) driving the transmission.
PMCID: PMC2809767  PMID: 20107602

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