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1.  Hsp104-Dependent Remodeling of Prion Complexes Mediates Protein-Only Inheritance  
PLoS Biology  2007;5(2):e24.
Inheritance of phenotypic traits depends on two key events: replication of the determinant of that trait and partitioning of these copies between mother and daughter cells. Although these processes are well understood for nucleic acid–based genes, the mechanisms by which protein-only or prion-based genetic elements direct phenotypic inheritance are poorly understood. Here, we report a process crucial for inheritance of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae prion [PSI+], a self-replicating conformer of the Sup35 protein. By tightly controlling expression of a Sup35-GFP fusion, we directly observe remodeling of existing Sup35[PSI+] complexes in vivo. This dynamic change in Sup35[PSI+] is lost when the molecular chaperone Hsp104, a factor essential for propagation of all yeast prions, is functionally impaired. The loss of Sup35[PSI+] remodeling by Hsp104 decreases the mobility of these complexes in the cytosol, creates a segregation bias that limits their transmission to daughter cells, and consequently diminishes the efficiency of conversion of newly made Sup35 to the prion form. Our observations resolve several seemingly conflicting reports on the mechanism of Hsp104 action and point to a single Hsp104-dependent event in prion propagation.
Author Summary
The inheritance of phenotypic traits (the observable characteristics of the organism) is a fundamental process in biology. Most phenotypes are controlled by a cell's genes, and a particular phenotype becomes heritable when this underlying genetic information is copied and transmitted to progeny. In contrast, another group of phenotypes appears to be inherited through a protein-only, or prion, mechanism in which the structure of a protein rather than its sequence is the molecular determinant of the phenotype. It is thought that the presence of a prion in a cell forces conversion of a normal cellular protein into a differently folded shape (the prion form), which simultaneously deprives the cell of the protein's normal function and causes the prion-folded protein to aggregate within the cell. However, prion inheritance (how prions are passed down to daughter cells) remains poorly understood.
Using the yeast prion [PSI+] as a model system, we have elucidated a process necessary for protein-only inheritance. Here we show that the molecular chaperone Hsp104, a factor necessary for the inheritance of all known yeast prions, plays a single primary role in generating additional templates for protein-state replication. In the absence of this activity, existing prion templates are inefficiently transferred to daughter cells. As a consequence, the rate of protein-state replication is greatly decreased, and the protein-based phenotype is progressively lost.
The authors examine the role of the molecular chaperone Hsp104 in controlling inheritance of the prion form of Sup35[PSI+].
PMCID: PMC1779812  PMID: 17253904
2.  The existence of species rests on a metastable equilibrium between inbreeding and outbreeding. An essay on the close relationship between speciation, inbreeding and recessive mutations 
Biology Direct  2011;6:62.
Speciation corresponds to the progressive establishment of reproductive barriers between groups of individuals derived from an ancestral stock. Since Darwin did not believe that reproductive barriers could be selected for, he proposed that most events of speciation would occur through a process of separation and divergence, and this point of view is still shared by most evolutionary biologists today.
I do, however, contend that, if so much speciation occurs, the most likely explanation is that there must be conditions where reproductive barriers can be directly selected for. In other words, situations where it is advantageous for individuals to reproduce preferentially within a small group and reduce their breeding with the rest of the ancestral population. This leads me to propose a model whereby new species arise not by populations splitting into separate branches, but by small inbreeding groups "budding" from an ancestral stock. This would be driven by several advantages of inbreeding, and mainly by advantageous recessive phenotypes, which could only be retained in the context of inbreeding. Reproductive barriers would thus not arise as secondary consequences of divergent evolution in populations isolated from one another, but under the direct selective pressure of ancestral stocks. Many documented cases of speciation in natural populations appear to fit the model proposed, with more speciation occurring in populations with high inbreeding coefficients, and many recessive characters identified as central to the phenomenon of speciation, with these recessive mutations expected to be surrounded by patterns of limited genomic diversity.
Whilst adaptive evolution would correspond to gains of function that would, most of the time, be dominant, this type of speciation by budding would thus be driven by mutations resulting in the advantageous loss of certain functions since recessive mutations very often correspond to the inactivation of a gene. A very important further advantage of inbreeding is that it reduces the accumulation of recessive mutations in genomes. A consequence of the model proposed is that the existence of species would correspond to a metastable equilibrium between inbreeding and outbreeding, with excessive inbreeding promoting speciation, and excessive outbreeding resulting in irreversible accumulation of recessive mutations that could ultimately only lead to extinction.
Reviewer names
Eugene V. Koonin, Patrick Nosil (nominated by Dr Jerzy Jurka), Pierre Pontarotti
PMCID: PMC3275546  PMID: 22152499
speciation; inbreeding; saeptation; mutation load; extinction; evolution
3.  Prion Switching in Response to Environmental Stress 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(11):e294.
Evolution depends on the manner in which genetic variation is translated into new phenotypes. There has been much debate about whether organisms might have specific mechanisms for “evolvability,” which would generate heritable phenotypic variation with adaptive value and could act to enhance the rate of evolution. Capacitor systems, which allow the accumulation of cryptic genetic variation and release it under stressful conditions, might provide such a mechanism. In yeast, the prion [PSI+] exposes a large array of previously hidden genetic variation, and the phenotypes it thereby produces are advantageous roughly 25% of the time. The notion that [PSI+] is a mechanism for evolvability would be strengthened if the frequency of its appearance increased with stress. That is, a system that mediates even the haphazard appearance of new phenotypes, which have a reasonable chance of adaptive value would be beneficial if it were deployed at times when the organism is not well adapted to its environment. In an unbiased, high-throughput, genome-wide screen for factors that modify the frequency of [PSI+] induction, signal transducers and stress response genes were particularly prominent. Furthermore, prion induction increased by as much as 60-fold when cells were exposed to various stressful conditions, such as oxidative stress (H2O2) or high salt concentrations. The severity of stress and the frequency of [PSI+] induction were highly correlated. These findings support the hypothesis that [PSI+] is a mechanism to increase survival in fluctuating environments and might function as a capacitor to promote evolvability.
Author Summary
One controversy in evolutionary biology concerns whether there might be plausible explanations for the rapid evolution of complex traits. An extreme and fascinating example of protein conformational change, the prion, offers a framework for this concept. Prion proteins are responsible for neurodegenerative diseases, instruct us in important aspects of amyloid formation, and furthermore, serve as ancient protein-based units of inheritance, a domain previously reserved for nucleic acids. In yeast, the [PSI+] prion causes read-through of nonsense codons. This has the capacity to rapidly unveil hidden genetic variation that may have adaptive value. The suggestion that [PSI+] might serve as a mechanism for evolvability would be strengthened if the frequency of the prion's appearance increased when the organism was under stress and therefore not ideally adapted to its environment. We investigated genetic and environmental factors that could modify the frequency with which the prion appears. Our high-throughput, genome-wide screen identified genes involved in stress response and signal transduction, whereas our cell-based assays found severe conditions that increased prion formation. Thus [PSI+] provides a possible mechanism for the organism to rapidly acquire new phenotypes in times of stress and potentially increases evolvability.
A yeast prion protein may promote evolvability by providing a mechanism for the rapid evolution of complex traits that is responsive to environmental stress.
PMCID: PMC2586387  PMID: 19067491
4.  PrionHome: A Database of Prions and Other Sequences Relevant to Prion Phenomena 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31785.
Prions are units of propagation of an altered state of a protein or proteins; prions can propagate from organism to organism, through cooption of other protein copies. Prions contain no necessary nucleic acids, and are important both as both pathogenic agents, and as a potential force in epigenetic phenomena. The original prions were derived from a misfolded form of the mammalian Prion Protein PrP. Infection by these prions causes neurodegenerative diseases. Other prions cause non-Mendelian inheritance in budding yeast, and sometimes act as diseases of yeast. We report the bioinformatic construction of the PrionHome, a database of >2000 prion-related sequences. The data was collated from various public and private resources and filtered for redundancy. The data was then processed according to a transparent classification system of prionogenic sequences (i.e., sequences that can make prions), prionoids (i.e., proteins that propagate like prions between individual cells), and other prion-related phenomena. There are eight PrionHome classifications for sequences. The first four classifications are derived from experimental observations: prionogenic sequences, prionoids, other prion-related phenomena, and prion interactors. The second four classifications are derived from sequence analysis: orthologs, paralogs, pseudogenes, and candidate-prionogenic sequences. Database entries list: supporting information for PrionHome classifications, prion-determinant areas (where relevant), and disordered and compositionally-biased regions. Also included are literature references for the PrionHome classifications, transcripts and genomic coordinates, and structural data (including comparative models made for the PrionHome from manually curated alignments). We provide database usage examples for both vertebrate and fungal prion contexts. Using the database data, we have performed a detailed analysis of the compositional biases in known budding-yeast prionogenic sequences, showing that the only abundant bias pattern is for asparagine bias with subsidiary serine bias. We anticipate that this database will be a useful experimental aid and reference resource. It is freely available at:
PMCID: PMC3282748  PMID: 22363733
5.  Prions are a common mechanism for phenotypic inheritance in wild yeasts 
Nature  2012;482(7385):363-368.
The self-templating conformations of yeast prion proteins act as epigenetic elements of inheritance. Yeast prions might provide a mechanism for generating heritable phenotypic diversity that promotes survival in fluctuating environments and the evolution of new traits. However, this hypothesis is highly controversial. Prions that create new traits have not been found in wild strains, leading to the perception that they are rare “diseases” of laboratory cultivation. Here we biochemically test ~700 wild strains of Saccharomyces for [PSI+] or [MOT3+], and find these prions in many. They conferred diverse phenotypes that were frequently beneficial under selective conditions. Simple meiotic re-assortment of the variation harboured within a strain readily fixed one such trait, making it robust and prion-independent. Finally, we genetically screened for unknown prion elements. Fully one third of wild strains harboured them. These, too, created diverse, often beneficial phenotypes. Thus, prions broadly govern heritable traits in nature, in a manner that could profoundly expand adaptive opportunities.
PMCID: PMC3319070  PMID: 22337056
6.  Biological species is the only possible form of existence for higher organisms: the evolutionary meaning of sexual reproduction 
Biology Direct  2010;5:14.
Consistent holistic view of sexual species as the highest form of biological existence is presented. The Weismann's idea that sex and recombination provide the variation for the natural selection to act upon is dominated in most discussions of the biological meaning of the sexual reproduction. Here, the idea is substantiated that the main advantage of sex is the opposite: the ability to counteract not only extinction but further evolution as well. Living systems live long owing to their ability to reproduce themselves with a high fidelity. Simple organisms (like bacteria) reach the continued existence due to the high fidelity of individual genome replication. In organisms with a large genome and complex development, the achievable fidelity of DNA replication is not enough for the precise reproduction of the genome. Such species must be capable of surviving and must remain unchanged in spite of the continuous changes of their genes. This problem has no solution in the frame of asexual ("homeogenomic") lineages. They would rapidly degrade and become extinct or blurred out in the course of the reckless evolution. The core outcome of the transition to sexual reproduction was the creation of multiorganismic entity - biological species. Individual organisms forfeited their ability to reproduce autonomously. It implies that individual organisms forfeited their ability to substantive evolution. They evolve as a part of the biological species. In case of obligatory sexuality, there is no such a thing as synchronic multi-level selection. Natural selection cannot select anything that is not a unit of reproduction. Hierarchy in biology implies the functional predestination of the parts for the sake of the whole. A crucial feature of the sexual reproduction is the formation of genomes of individual organisms by random picking them over from the continuously shuffled gene pool instead of the direct replication of the ancestor's genome. A clear anti-evolutionary consequence of the sexuality is evident from the fact that the genotypes of the individuals with an enhanced competitiveness are not transmitted to the next generation. Instead, after mating with "ordinary" individuals, these genotypes scatter and rearrange in new gene combinations, thus preventing the winner from exploiting the success.
This article was reviewed by Pierre Antoine Pontarotti, Michael T. Ghiselin (nominated by Dr. Juergen Brosius) and Emanuel Tannenboum (nominated by Dr. Doron Lancet)
PMCID: PMC2847548  PMID: 20307287
7.  Biochemical Properties of Highly Neuroinvasive Prion Strains 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(2):e1002522.
Infectious prions propagate from peripheral entry sites into the central nervous system (CNS), where they cause progressive neurodegeneration that ultimately leads to death. Yet the pathogenesis of prion disease can vary dramatically depending on the strain, or conformational variant of the aberrantly folded and aggregated protein, PrPSc. Although most prion strains invade the CNS, some prion strains cannot gain entry and do not cause clinical signs of disease. The conformational basis for this remarkable variation in the pathogenesis among strains is unclear. Using mouse-adapted prion strains, here we show that highly neuroinvasive prion strains primarily form diffuse aggregates in brain and are noncongophilic, conformationally unstable in denaturing conditions, and lead to rapidly lethal disease. These neuroinvasive strains efficiently generate PrPSc over short incubation periods. In contrast, the weakly neuroinvasive prion strains form large fibrillary plaques and are stable, congophilic, and inefficiently generate PrPSc over long incubation periods. Overall, these results indicate that the most neuroinvasive prion strains are also the least stable, and support the concept that the efficient replication and unstable nature of the most rapidly converting prions may be a feature linked to their efficient spread into the CNS.
Author Summary
Prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative disorders that are also infectious. Prions are composed of a misfolded, aggregated form of a normal cellular protein that is highly expressed in neurons. Prion- infected individuals show variability in the clinical signs and brain regions that selectively accumulate prions, even within the same species expressing the same prion protein sequence. The basis of these divergent disease phenotypes is unclear, but is thought to be due to different conformations of the misfolded prion protein, known as strains. Here we characterized the neuropathology and biochemical properties of prion strains that efficiently or poorly invade the CNS from their peripheral entry site. We show that prion strains that efficiently invade the CNS also cause a rapidly terminal disease after an intracerebral exposure. These rapidly lethal strains were unstable when exposed to denaturants or high temperatures, and efficiently accumulated misfolded prion protein over a short incubation period in vivo. Our findings indicate that the most invasive, rapidly spreading strains are also the least conformationally stable.
PMCID: PMC3271082  PMID: 22319450
8.  Epigenetic Dominance of Prion Conformers 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003692.
Although they share certain biological properties with nucleic acid based infectious agents, prions, the causative agents of invariably fatal, transmissible neurodegenerative disorders such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, sheep scrapie, and human Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, propagate by conformational templating of host encoded proteins. Once thought to be unique to these diseases, this mechanism is now recognized as a ubiquitous means of information transfer in biological systems, including other protein misfolding disorders such as those causing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. To address the poorly understood mechanism by which host prion protein (PrP) primary structures interact with distinct prion conformations to influence pathogenesis, we produced transgenic (Tg) mice expressing different sheep scrapie susceptibility alleles, varying only at a single amino acid at PrP residue 136. Tg mice expressing ovine PrP with alanine (A) at (OvPrP-A136) infected with SSBP/1 scrapie prions propagated a relatively stable (S) prion conformation, which accumulated as punctate aggregates in the brain, and produced prolonged incubation times. In contrast, Tg mice expressing OvPrP with valine (V) at 136 (OvPrP-V136) infected with the same prions developed disease rapidly, and the converted prion was comprised of an unstable (U), diffusely distributed conformer. Infected Tg mice co-expressing both alleles manifested properties consistent with the U conformer, suggesting a dominant effect resulting from exclusive conversion of OvPrP-V136 but not OvPrP-A136. Surprisingly, however, studies with monoclonal antibody (mAb) PRC5, which discriminates OvPrP-A136 from OvPrP-V136, revealed substantial conversion of OvPrP-A136. Moreover, the resulting OvPrP-A136 prion acquired the characteristics of the U conformer. These results, substantiated by in vitro analyses, indicated that co-expression of OvPrP-V136 altered the conversion potential of OvPrP-A136 from the S to the otherwise unfavorable U conformer. This epigenetic mechanism thus expands the range of selectable conformations that can be adopted by PrP, and therefore the variety of options for strain propagation.
Author Summary
Prions are infectious proteins, originally discovered as the cause of a group of transmissible, fatal mammalian neurodegenerative diseases. Propagation results from conversion of the host-encoded cellular form of the prion protein to a self-propagating disease-associated conformation. It is believed that the self-propagating pathogenic form exists in a variety of subtly different conformations that encipher prion strain information. Here we explored the mechanism by which prion protein primary structural variants, differing at only a single amino acid residue, interact with prion strain conformations to control disease phenotype. We show that under conditions of co-expression, a susceptible prion protein variant influences the ability of an otherwise resistant variant to propagate an otherwise unfavorable prion strain. While this phenomenon is analogous to the expression of genetically-determined phenotypes, our results support a mechanism whereby dominant and recessive prion traits are epigenetically controlled by means of protein-mediated conformational templating.
PMCID: PMC3814339  PMID: 24204258
9.  Potential roles for prions and protein-only inheritance in cancer 
Cancer Metastasis Reviews  2012;31(1-2):1-19.
Inherited mutations are known to cause familial cancers. However, the cause of sporadic cancers, which likely represent the majority of cancers, is yet to be elucidated. Sporadic cancers contain somatic mutations (including oncogenic mutations), however, the origin of these mutations is unclear. An intriguing possibility is that a stable alteration occurs in somatic cells prior to oncogenic mutations and promotes the subsequent accumulation of oncogenic mutations. This review explores the possible role of prions and protein-only inheritance in cancer. Genetic studies using lower eukaryotes, primarily yeast, have identified a large number of proteins as prions that confer dominant phenotypes with cytoplasmic (non-Mendelian) inheritance. Many of these have mammalian functional homologs. The human prion protein (PrP) is known to cause neurodegenerative diseases and has now been found to be up-regulated in multiple cancers. PrP expression in cancer cells contributes to cancer progression and resistance to various cancer therapies. Epigenetic changes in gene expression and hyper-activation of MAP kinase (MAPK) signalling, processes that in lower eukaryotes are affected by prions, play important roles in oncogenesis in humans. Prion phenomena in yeast appear to be influenced by stresses and there is considerable evidence for association of some amyloids with biologically positive functions. This suggests that if protein-only somatic inheritance exists in mammalian cells, it might contribute to cancer phenotypes. Here we highlight evidence in the literature for an involvement of prion or prion-like mechanisms in cancer and how they may in the future be viewed as diagnostic markers and potential therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC3315606  PMID: 22138778
drug resistance; exosomes; genetic instability; heterogeneity; hyperthermia; metastasis
10.  Prion Protein Amino Acid Determinants of Differential Susceptibility and Molecular Feature of Prion Strains in Mice and Voles 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(7):e1000113.
The bank vole is a rodent susceptible to different prion strains from humans and various animal species. We analyzed the transmission features of different prions in a panel of seven rodent species which showed various degrees of phylogenetic affinity and specific prion protein (PrP) sequence divergences in order to investigate the basis of vole susceptibility in comparison to other rodent models. At first, we found a differential susceptibility of bank and field voles compared to C57Bl/6 and wood mice. Voles showed high susceptibility to sheep scrapie but were resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, whereas C57Bl/6 and wood mice displayed opposite features. Infection with mouse-adapted scrapie 139A was faster in voles than in C57Bl/6 and wood mice. Moreover, a glycoprofile change was observed in voles, which was reverted upon back passage to mice. All strains replicated much faster in voles than in mice after adapting to the new species. PrP sequence comparison indicated a correlation between the transmission patterns and amino acids at positions 154 and 169 (Y and S in mice, N and N in voles). This correlation was confirmed when inoculating three additional rodent species: gerbils, spiny mice and oldfield mice with sheep scrapie and 139A. These rodents were chosen because oldfield mice do have the 154N and 169N substitutions, whereas gerbil and spiny mice do not have them. Our results suggest that PrP residues 154 and 169 drive the susceptibility, molecular phenotype and replication rate of prion strains in rodents. This might have implications for the assessment of host range and molecular traceability of prion strains, as well as for the development of improved animal models for prion diseases.
Author Summary
Prions are unconventional infectious agents that cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans. A pathological form of the cellular prion protein (PrPC), named PrPSc, appears to be the major or the sole component of prions. These agents are transmitted by inducing the conversion of host PrPC into PrPSc that accumulates in the brain of affected individuals. Different factors are believed to modulate such events, which explains the variable transmission efficiency observed under inter-species experimental inoculation. These factors are still fairly unknown, although evidence exists that some kind of structural compatibility between PrPSc of the infectious inoculum and PrPC of the host has a role in making transmission more or less efficient. We investigated the transmission of prions to different rodents and showed that specific amino acid substitutions (Y154N and S169N) in the prion protein are major determinants of susceptibility to prions. In particular, we showed that these specific variations i) direct the transmission rate of prions between different species in a way that is dependent on the prion strain, ii) affect the molecular characteristics of prions, and iii) influence their replication efficiency.
PMCID: PMC2453331  PMID: 18654630
11.  Quaternary Structure of Pathological Prion Protein as a Determining Factor of Strain-Specific Prion Replication Dynamics 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003702.
Prions are proteinaceous infectious agents responsible for fatal neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans. They are essentially composed of PrPSc, an aggregated, misfolded conformer of the ubiquitously expressed host-encoded prion protein (PrPC). Stable variations in PrPSc conformation are assumed to encode the phenotypically tangible prion strains diversity. However the direct contribution of PrPSc quaternary structure to the strain biological information remains mostly unknown. Applying a sedimentation velocity fractionation technique to a panel of ovine prion strains, classified as fast and slow according to their incubation time in ovine PrP transgenic mice, has previously led to the observation that the relationship between prion infectivity and PrPSc quaternary structure was not univocal. For the fast strains specifically, infectivity sedimented slowly and segregated from the bulk of proteinase-K resistant PrPSc. To carefully separate the respective contributions of size and density to this hydrodynamic behavior, we performed sedimentation at the equilibrium and varied the solubilization conditions. The density profile of prion infectivity and proteinase-K resistant PrPSc tended to overlap whatever the strain, fast or slow, leaving only size as the main responsible factor for the specific velocity properties of the fast strain most infectious component. We further show that this velocity-isolable population of discrete assemblies perfectly resists limited proteolysis and that its templating activity, as assessed by protein misfolding cyclic amplification outcompetes by several orders of magnitude that of the bulk of larger size PrPSc aggregates. Together, the tight correlation between small size, conversion efficiency and duration of disease establishes PrPSc quaternary structure as a determining factor of prion replication dynamics. For certain strains, a subset of PrP assemblies appears to be the best template for prion replication. This has important implications for fundamental studies on prions.
Author Summary
Prions are infectious agents causing irremediably fatal neurodegenerative diseases in human and in farmed or wild animals. They are thought to be formed from abnormally folded assemblies (PrPSc) of the host-encoded prion protein (PrPC). Different PrPSc conformational variants associated with distinct biological phenotypes, or ‘strains,’ can propagate in the same host. To gain some structural information on the physical relationship between packing order (i.e. quaternary structure) and the strain-specific biological information, we previously subjected PrPSc assemblies from prion strains classified as fast or slow (according to their survival time in susceptible laboratory animals) to sedimentation velocity ultracentrifugation experiments. For the fast strains specifically, the most infectious assemblies sedimented slowly and partitioned from the bulk of PrPSc macromolecular complexes. By changing the solubilization and sedimentation conditions, we established here that a small PrPSc aggregation size and not a low density accounts for these hydrodynamic properties. We further showed that these small assemblies resist proteolytic digestion and outcompete by several orders of magnitude the larger-size assemblies in cell-free prion conversion assays. Thus PrPSc quaternary structure appears to be a determining factor of prion replication dynamics. For certain strains, a discrete subset of PrPSc assemblies appears to be the best template for prion replication.
PMCID: PMC3795044  PMID: 24130496
12.  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
13.  Genetic and epigenetic control of the efficiency and fidelity of cross-species prion transmission 
Molecular microbiology  2010;76(6):1483-1499.
Self-perpetuating amyloid-based protein isoforms (prions) transmit neurodegenerative diseases in mammals and phenotypic traits in yeast. Although mechanisms that control species-specificity of prion transmission are poorly understood, studies of closely related orthologs of yeast prion protein Sup35 demonstrate that cross-species prion transmission is modulated by both genetic (specific sequence elements) and epigenetic (prion variants, or “strains”) factors. Depending on the prion variant, the species barrier could be controlled at the level of either heterologous coaggregation or conversion of the aggregate-associated heterologous protein into a prion polymer. Sequence divergence influences cross-species transmission of different prion variants in opposing ways. The ability of a heterologous prion domain to either faithfully reproduce or irreversibly switch the variant-specific prion patterns depends on both sequence divergence and the prion variant. Sequence variations within different modules of prion domains contribute to transmission barriers in different cross-species combinations. Individual amino acid substitutions within short amyloidogenic stretches drastically alter patterns of cross-species prion conversion, implicating these stretches as major determinants of species specificity.
PMCID: PMC3025758  PMID: 20444092
amyloid; Saccharomyces bayanus; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Saccharomyces paradoxus; yeast
14.  Spontaneous Variants of the [RNQ+] Prion in Yeast Demonstrate the Extensive Conformational Diversity Possible with Prion Proteins  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e79582.
Prion strains (or variants) are structurally distinct amyloid conformations arising from a single polypeptide sequence. The existence of prion strains has been well documented in mammalian prion diseases. In many cases, prion strains manifest as variation in disease progression and pathology, and in some cases, these prion strains also show distinct biochemical properties. Yet, the underlying basis of prion propagation and the extent of conformational possibilities available to amyloidogenic proteins remain largely undefined. Prion proteins in yeast that are also capable of maintaining multiple self-propagating structures have provided much insight into prion biology. Here, we explore the vast structural diversity of the yeast prion [RNQ+] in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We screened for the formation of [RNQ+] in vivo, allowing us to calculate the rate of spontaneous formation as ~2.96x10-6, and successfully isolate several different [RNQ+] variants. Through a comprehensive set of biochemical and biological analyses, we show that these prion variants are indeed novel. No individual property or set of properties, including aggregate stability and size, was sufficient to explain the physical basis and range of prion variants and their resulting cellular phenotypes. Furthermore, all of the [RNQ+] variants that we isolated were able to facilitate the de novo formation of the yeast prion [PSI+], an epigenetic determinant of translation termination. This supports the hypothesis that [RNQ+] acts as a functional amyloid in regulating the formation of [PSI+] to produce phenotypic diversity within a yeast population and promote adaptation. Collectively, this work shows the broad spectrum of available amyloid conformations, and thereby expands the foundation for studying the complex factors that interact to regulate the propagation of distinct aggregate structures.
PMCID: PMC3808357  PMID: 24205387
15.  Neuroinvasion in Prion Diseases: The Roles of Ascending Neural Infection and Blood Dissemination 
Prion disorders are infectious, neurodegenerative diseases that affect humans and animals. Susceptibility to some prion diseases such as kuru or the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and scrapie in sheep and goats is influenced by polymorphisms of the coding region of the prion protein gene, while other prion disorders such as fatal familial insomnia, familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease in humans have an underlying inherited genetic basis. Several prion strains have been demonstrated experimentally in rodents and sheep. The progression and pathogenesis of disease is influenced by both genetic differences in the prion protein and prion strain. Some prion diseases only affect the central nervous system whereas others involve the peripheral organs prior to neuroinvasion. Many experiments undertaken in different species and using different prion strains have postulated common pathways of neuroinvasion. It is suggested that prions access the autonomic nerves innervating peripheral organs and tissues to finally reach the central nervous system. We review here published data supporting this view and additional data suggesting that neuroinvasion may concurrently or independently involve the blood vascular system.
PMCID: PMC2905956  PMID: 20652006
16.  Resistance of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Prions to Inactivation 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(11):e1000206.
Distinct prion strains often exhibit different incubation periods and patterns of neuropathological lesions. Strain characteristics are generally retained upon intraspecies transmission, but may change on transmission to another species. We investigated the inactivation of two related prions strains: BSE prions from cattle and mouse-passaged BSE prions, termed 301V. Inactivation was manipulated by exposure to sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), variations in pH, and different temperatures. Infectivity was measured using transgenic mouse lines that are highly susceptible to either BSE or 301V prions. Bioassays demonstrated that BSE prions are up to 1,000-fold more resistant to inactivation than 301V prions while Western immunoblotting showed that short acidic SDS treatments reduced protease-resistant PrPSc from BSE prions and 301V prions at similar rates. Our findings argue that despite being derived from BSE prions, mouse 301V prions are not necessarily a reliable model for cattle BSE prions. Extending these comparisons to human sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and hamster Sc237 prions, we found that BSE prions were 10- and 106-fold more resistant to inactivation, respectively. Our studies contend that any prion inactivation procedures must be validated by bioassay against the prion strain for which they are intended to be used.
Author Summary
“Mad cow” disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), belongs to a family of diseases affecting humans and a number of commercially important animal species. These diseases are not spread by bacteria or viruses, but by infectious proteins, termed “prions.” Prions are known to be very difficult to inactivate, but little is known about the relative difficulty of inactivation for prions from different species. Here, we studied the inactivation of BSE prions and compared it to the inactivation of prions from humans, mice, and hamsters. We used highly sensitive, genetically engineered mouse models to detect low levels of infectivity. We then quantified the levels of inactivation for a range of treatments and calculated differences between prions from different species. We found that naturally occurring BSE prions can be up to 1 million times more difficult to inactivate than the most commonly used hamster prions. BSE prions were also 1,000 times more difficult to inactivate than a mouse prion that was thought to be a surrogate for BSE prions. This study demonstrates that prion inactivation procedures need to be validated directly against the prion strains for which they are intended to be used.
PMCID: PMC2576443  PMID: 19008948
17.  Defining the Conformational Features of Anchorless, Poorly Neuroinvasive Prions 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(4):e1003280.
Infectious prions cause diverse clinical signs and form an extraordinary range of structures, from amorphous aggregates to fibrils. How the conformation of a prion dictates the disease phenotype remains unclear. Mice expressing GPI-anchorless or GPI-anchored prion protein exposed to the same infectious prion develop fibrillar or nonfibrillar aggregates, respectively, and show a striking divergence in the disease pathogenesis. To better understand how a prion's physical properties govern the pathogenesis, infectious anchorless prions were passaged in mice expressing anchorless prion protein and the resulting prions were biochemically characterized. Serial passage of anchorless prions led to a significant decrease in the incubation period to terminal disease and altered the biochemical properties, consistent with a transmission barrier effect. After an intraperitoneal exposure, anchorless prions were only weakly neuroinvasive, as prion plaques rarely occurred in the brain yet were abundant in extracerebral sites such as heart and adipose tissue. Anchorless prions consistently showed very high stability in chaotropes or when heated in SDS, and were highly resistant to enzyme digestion. Consistent with the results in mice, anchorless prions from a human patient were also highly stable in chaotropes. These findings reveal that anchorless prions consist of fibrillar and highly stable conformers. The additional finding from our group and others that both anchorless and anchored prion fibrils are poorly neuroinvasive strengthens the hypothesis that a fibrillar prion structure impedes efficient CNS invasion.
Author Summary
Prions cause fatal neurodegenerative disease in humans and animals and there is currently no treatment available. The cellular prion protein is normally tethered to the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane by a glycophosphatidyl inositol (GPI) anchor. A rare stop codon mutation in the PRNP gene leads to the production of GPI-anchorless prion protein and the development of familial prion disease, which has been reproduced in mouse models. GPI-anchorless prions in humans or mice form large, dense plaques containing fibrils in the brain that vary from the more common non-fibrillar prion aggregates. Here we investigated the biochemical differences between GPI-anchored and GPI-anchorless prions. We also assessed the capacity of GPI-anchorless prions to spread from entry sites into the central nervous system. We found that infectious GPI-anchorless prions were extraordinarily stable when exposed to protein denaturing conditions. Additionally, we show that GPI-anchorless prions rarely invade the central nervous system and then only after long incubation periods, despite their presence in extraneural tissues including adipose tissue and heart. Our study shows that GPI-anchored prions converted into GPI-anchorless prions become extraordinarily stable, more resistant to enzyme digestion, and are poorly able to invade the nervous system.
PMCID: PMC3630170  PMID: 23637596
18.  Is evolution Darwinian or/and Lamarckian? 
Biology Direct  2009;4:42.
The year 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jean-Bapteste Lamarck's Philosophie Zoologique and the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Lamarck believed that evolution is driven primarily by non-randomly acquired, beneficial phenotypic changes, in particular, those directly affected by the use of organs, which Lamarck believed to be inheritable. In contrast, Darwin assigned a greater importance to random, undirected change that provided material for natural selection.
The concept
The classic Lamarckian scheme appears untenable owing to the non-existence of mechanisms for direct reverse engineering of adaptive phenotypic characters acquired by an individual during its life span into the genome. However, various evolutionary phenomena that came to fore in the last few years, seem to fit a more broadly interpreted (quasi)Lamarckian paradigm. The prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas system of defense against mobile elements seems to function via a bona fide Lamarckian mechanism, namely, by integrating small segments of viral or plasmid DNA into specific loci in the host prokaryote genome and then utilizing the respective transcripts to destroy the cognate mobile element DNA (or RNA). A similar principle seems to be employed in the piRNA branch of RNA interference which is involved in defense against transposable elements in the animal germ line. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), a dominant evolutionary process, at least, in prokaryotes, appears to be a form of (quasi)Lamarckian inheritance. The rate of HGT and the nature of acquired genes depend on the environment of the recipient organism and, in some cases, the transferred genes confer a selective advantage for growth in that environment, meeting the Lamarckian criteria. Various forms of stress-induced mutagenesis are tightly regulated and comprise a universal adaptive response to environmental stress in cellular life forms. Stress-induced mutagenesis can be construed as a quasi-Lamarckian phenomenon because the induced genomic changes, although random, are triggered by environmental factors and are beneficial to the organism.
Both Darwinian and Lamarckian modalities of evolution appear to be important, and reflect different aspects of the interaction between populations and the environment.
this article was reviewed by Juergen Brosius, Valerian Dolja, and Martijn Huynen. For complete reports, see the Reviewers' reports section.
PMCID: PMC2781790  PMID: 19906303
19.  The tip of the iceberg: RNA-binding proteins with prion-like domains in neurodegenerative disease 
Brain Research  2012;1462:61-80.
Prions are self-templating protein conformers that are naturally transmitted between individuals and promote phenotypic change. In yeast, prion-encoded phenotypes can be beneficial, neutral or deleterious depending upon genetic background and environmental conditions. A distinctive and portable ‘prion domain’ enriched in asparagine, glutamine, tyrosine and glycine residues unifies the majority of yeast prion proteins. Deletion of this domain precludes prionogenesis and appending this domain to reporter proteins can confer prionogenicity. An algorithm designed to detect prion domains has successfully identified 19 domains that can confer prion behavior. Scouring the human genome with this algorithm enriches a select group of RNA-binding proteins harboring a canonical RNA recognition motif (RRM) and a putative prion domain. Indeed, of 210 human RRM-bearing proteins, 29 have a putative prion domain, and 12 of these are in the top 60 prion candidates in the entire genome. Startlingly, these RNA-binding prion candidates are inexorably emerging, one by one, in the pathology and genetics of devastating neurodegenerative disorders, including: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal lobar degeneration with ubiquitin-positive inclusions (FTLD-U), Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. For example, FUS and TDP-43, which rank 1st and 10th among RRM-bearing prion candidates, form cytoplasmic inclusions in the degenerating motor neurons of ALS patients and mutations in TDP-43 and FUS cause familial ALS. Recently, perturbed RNA-binding proteostasis of TAF15, which is the 2nd ranked RRM-bearing prion candidate, has been connected with ALS and FTLD-U. We strongly suspect that we have now merely reached the tip of the iceberg. We predict that additional RNA-binding prion candidates identified by our algorithm will soon surface as genetic modifiers or causes of diverse neurodegenerative conditions. Indeed, simple prion-like transfer mechanisms involving the prion-like domains of RNA-binding proteins could underlie the classical non-cell-autonomous emanation of neurodegenerative pathology from originating epicenters to neighboring portions of the nervous system.
PMCID: PMC3372647  PMID: 22445064
20.  An overview of human prion diseases 
Virology Journal  2011;8:559.
Prion diseases are transmissible, progressive and invariably fatal neurodegenerative conditions associated with misfolding and aggregation of a host-encoded cellular prion protein, PrPC. They have occurred in a wide range of mammalian species including human. Human prion diseases can arise sporadically, be hereditary or be acquired. Sporadic human prion diseases include Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), fatal insomnia and variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. Genetic or familial prion diseases are caused by autosomal dominantly inherited mutations in the gene encoding for PrPC and include familial or genetic CJD, fatal familial insomnia and Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker syndrome. Acquired human prion diseases account for only 5% of cases of human prion disease. They include kuru, iatrogenic CJD and a new variant form of CJD that was transmitted to humans from affected cattle via meat consumption especially brain. This review presents information on the epidemiology, etiology, clinical assessment, neuropathology and public health concerns of human prion diseases. The role of the PrP encoding gene (PRNP) in conferring susceptibility to human prion diseases is also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3296552  PMID: 22196171
Prions; Prion diseases; PRNP; TSE; CJD
21.  DNA → RNA: What Do Students Think the Arrow Means? 
CBE Life Sciences Education  2014;13(2):338-348.
The authors investigated student understanding of central dogma concepts in a variety of settings. They found that students are not primed to think about “information” when presented with the canonical figure of the central dogma and uncovered interesting conceptual misunderstandings about the meaning of the arrows in the representation.
The central dogma of molecular biology, a model that has remained intact for decades, describes the transfer of genetic information from DNA to protein though an RNA intermediate. While recent work has illustrated many exceptions to the central dogma, it is still a common model used to describe and study the relationship between genes and protein products. We investigated understanding of central dogma concepts and found that students are not primed to think about information when presented with the canonical figure of the central dogma. We also uncovered conceptual errors in student interpretation of the meaning of the transcription arrow in the central dogma representation; 36% of students (n = 128; all undergraduate levels) described transcription as a chemical conversion of DNA into RNA or suggested that RNA existed before the process of transcription began. Interviews confirm that students with weak conceptual understanding of information flow find inappropriate meaning in the canonical representation of central dogma. Therefore, we suggest that use of this representation during instruction can be counterproductive unless educators are explicit about the underlying meaning.
PMCID: PMC4041510
22.  A Novel Prion Disease Associated with Diarrhea and Autonomic Neuropathy 
The New England journal of medicine  2013;369(20):10.1056/NEJMoa1214747.
Human prion diseases, although variable in clinicopathological phenotype, generally present as neurologic or neuropsychiatric conditions associated with rapid multi-focal central nervous system degeneration that is usually dominated by dementia and cerebellar ataxia. Approximately 15% of cases of recognized prion disease are inherited and associated with coding mutations in the gene encoding prion protein (PRNP). The availability of genetic diagnosis has led to a progressive broadening of the recognized spectrum of disease.
We used longitudinal clinical assessments over a period of 20 years at one hospital combined with genealogical, neuropsychological, neurophysiological, neuroimaging, pathological, molecular genetic, and biochemical studies, as well as studies of animal transmission, to characterize a novel prion disease in a large British kindred. We studied 6 of 11 affected family members in detail, along with autopsy or biopsy samples obtained from 5 family members.
We identified a PRNP Y163X truncation mutation and describe a distinct and consistent phenotype of chronic diarrhea with autonomic failure and a length-dependent axonal, predominantly sensory, peripheral polyneuropathy with an onset in early adulthood. Cognitive decline and seizures occurred when the patients were in their 40s or 50s. The deposition of prion protein amyloid was seen throughout peripheral organs, including the bowel and peripheral nerves. Neuropathological examination during end-stage disease showed the deposition of prion protein in the form of frequent cortical amyloid plaques, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and tauopathy. A unique pattern of abnormal prion protein fragments was seen in brain tissue. Transmission studies in laboratory mice were negative.
Abnormal forms of prion protein that were found in multiple peripheral tissues were associated with diarrhea, autonomic failure, and neuropathy. (Funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council and others.)
PMCID: PMC3863770  PMID: 24224623
23.  Fatal Prion Disease in a Mouse Model of Genetic E200K Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(11):e1002350.
Genetic prion diseases are late onset fatal neurodegenerative disorders linked to pathogenic mutations in the prion protein-encoding gene, PRNP. The most prevalent of these is the substitution of Glutamate for Lysine at codon 200 (E200K), causing genetic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (gCJD) in several clusters, including Jews of Libyan origin. Investigating the pathogenesis of genetic CJD, as well as developing prophylactic treatments for young asymptomatic carriers of this and other PrP mutations, may well depend upon the availability of appropriate animal models in which long term treatments can be evaluated for efficacy and toxicity. Here we present the first effective mouse model for E200KCJD, which expresses chimeric mouse/human (TgMHu2M) E199KPrP on both a null and a wt PrP background, as is the case for heterozygous patients and carriers. Mice from both lines suffered from distinct neurological symptoms as early as 5–6 month of age and deteriorated to death several months thereafter. Histopathological examination of the brain and spinal cord revealed early gliosis and age-related intraneuronal deposition of disease-associated PrP similarly to human E200K gCJD. Concomitantly we detected aggregated, proteinase K resistant, truncated and oxidized PrP forms on immunoblots. Inoculation of brain extracts from TgMHu2ME199K mice readily induced, the first time for any mutant prion transgenic model, a distinct fatal prion disease in wt mice. We believe that these mice may serve as an ideal platform for the investigation of the pathogenesis of genetic prion disease and thus for the monitoring of anti-prion treatments.
Author Summary
Inherited prion diseases, such as genetic CJD, are dominant disorders linked to mutations in the gene encoding the prion protein, PrP. Since therapeutic intervention in all types of human prion diseases has failed, we propose that therapeutic efforts should be directed mostly to the development of preventive treatments for subjects incubating prion diseases, as is the case for asymptomatic carriers of pathogenic PrP mutations. These subjects will develop disease symptoms at some point in their adult life; therefore they should be treated before clinical deterioration. Candidate treatments will need to be tested for efficacy and safety first in animal models that mimic most properties of genetic CJD. In this work, we describe a new transgenic mouse model for E200K genetic CJD, presenting progressive neurodegenerative disease and age related prion disease pathology and biochemistry, as is the case in the human disease. Brain extracts from these mice also transmitted prion disease to wt mice, as shown before for parallel human samples. We propose that these animals will play a significant role in the development of novel anti-prion prophylactic treatments.
PMCID: PMC3207931  PMID: 22072968
24.  Genome-wide association study in multiple human prion diseases suggests genetic risk factors additional to PRNP 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(8):1897-1906.
Prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative diseases of humans and animals caused by the misfolding and aggregation of prion protein (PrP). Mammalian prion diseases are under strong genetic control but few risk factors are known aside from the PrP gene locus (PRNP). No genome-wide association study (GWAS) has been done aside from a small sample of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD). We conducted GWAS of sporadic CJD (sCJD), variant CJD (vCJD), iatrogenic CJD, inherited prion disease, kuru and resistance to kuru despite attendance at mortuary feasts. After quality control, we analysed 2000 samples and 6015 control individuals (provided by the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium and KORA-gen) for 491032-511862 SNPs in the European study. Association studies were done in each geographical and aetiological group followed by several combined analyses. The PRNP locus was highly associated with risk in all geographical and aetiological groups. This association was driven by the known coding variation at rs1799990 (PRNP codon 129). No non-PRNP loci achieved genome-wide significance in the meta-analysis of all human prion disease. SNPs at the ZBTB38–RASA2 locus were associated with CJD in the UK (rs295301, P = 3.13 × 10−8; OR, 0.70) but these SNPs showed no replication evidence of association in German sCJD or in Papua New Guinea-based tests. A SNP in the CHN2 gene was associated with vCJD [P = 1.5 × 10−7; odds ratio (OR), 2.36], but not in UK sCJD (P = 0.049; OR, 1.24), in German sCJD or in PNG groups. In the overall meta-analysis of CJD, 14 SNPs were associated (P < 10−5; two at PRNP, three at ZBTB38–RASA2, nine at nine other independent non-PRNP loci), more than would be expected by chance. None of the loci recently identified as genome-wide significant in studies of other neurodegenerative diseases showed any clear evidence of association in prion diseases. Concerning common genetic variation, it is likely that the PRNP locus contains the only strong risk factors that act universally across human prion diseases. Our data are most consistent with several other risk loci of modest overall effects which will require further genetic association studies to provide definitive evidence.
PMCID: PMC3313791  PMID: 22210626
25.  The NatA Acetyltransferase Couples Sup35 Prion Complexes to the [PSI+] Phenotype 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2009;20(3):1068-1080.
Protein-only (prion) epigenetic elements confer unique phenotypes by adopting alternate conformations that specify new traits. Given the conformational flexibility of prion proteins, protein-only inheritance requires efficient self-replication of the underlying conformation. To explore the cellular regulation of conformational self-replication and its phenotypic effects, we analyzed genetic interactions between [PSI+], a prion form of the S. cerevisiae Sup35 protein (Sup35[PSI+]), and the three Nα-acetyltransferases, NatA, NatB, and NatC, which collectively modify ∼50% of yeast proteins. Although prion propagation proceeds normally in the absence of NatB or NatC, the [PSI+] phenotype is reversed in strains lacking NatA. Despite this change in phenotype, [PSI+] NatA mutants continue to propagate heritable Sup35[PSI+]. This uncoupling of protein state and phenotype does not arise through a decrease in the number or activity of prion templates (propagons) or through an increase in soluble Sup35. Rather, NatA null strains are specifically impaired in establishing the translation termination defect that normally accompanies Sup35 incorporation into prion complexes. The NatA effect cannot be explained by the modification of known components of the [PSI+] prion cycle including Sup35; thus, novel acetylated cellular factors must act to establish and maintain the tight link between Sup35[PSI+] complexes and their phenotypic effects.
PMCID: PMC2633373  PMID: 19073888

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