Prion protein, PrPC, is a glycoprotein that is expressed on the cell surface. The current study examines the role of PrPC in early human embryogenesis using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and tetracycline-regulated lentiviral vectors that upregulate or suppresses PrPC expression. Here, we show that expression of PrPC in pluripotent hESCs cultured under self-renewal conditions induced cell differentiation toward lineages of three germ layers. Silencing of PrPC in hESCs undergoing spontaneous differentiation altered the dynamics of the cell cycle and changed the balance between the lineages of the three germ layers, where differentiation toward ectodermal lineages was suppressed. Moreover, overexpression of PrPC in hESCs undergoing spontaneous differentiation inhibited differentiation toward lineages of all three germ layers and helped to preserve high proliferation activity. These results illustrate that PrPC is involved in key activities that dictate the status of hESCs including regulation of cell cycle dynamics, controlling the switch between self-renewal and differentiation, and determining the fate of hESCs differentiation. The current study suggests that PrPC is at the cross-roads of several signaling pathways that regulate the switch between preservation of or departure from the self-renewal state, control cell proliferation activity and define stem cell fate.
human embryonic stem cells; prion protein; self-renewal; stem cell differentiation; stem cell fate
Recent studies demonstrated that the efficiency, rate and yield of prion amplification in vitro could be substantially improved by supplementing Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification (PMCA) with Teflon beads [Gonzalez-Montalban, et al. (2011) PLoS Pathog. 7, e1001277]. Here we employed the new PMCA format with beads (PMCAb) to gain insight into the mechanism of prion amplification. Using a panel of six hamster prion strains, the effect of beads on amplification was found to be strain-specific, with the largest improvements in efficiency observed for strains with the highest conformational stability. This result suggests a link between PrPSc conformational stability and its fragmentation rate and that beads improved amplification by assisting fragmentation. Furthermore, while exploring the PrPSc-independent bead effect mechanism, a synergy between the effects of RNA and beads on amplification was observed. Consistent with previous studies, amplification of all six hamster strains tested here was found to be RNA-dependent. Under sonication conditions used for PMCA, large RNA molecules were found to degrade into smaller fragments of a size that was previously shown to be the most effective in facilitating prion conversion. We speculate that sonication-induced changes in RNA size distribution could be one of the rate-limiting steps in prion amplification.
Prion replication occurs via a template-assisted mechanism, which postulates that the folding pattern of a newly recruited polypeptide chain accurately reproduces that of a template. The concept of prion-like template-assisted propagation of an abnormal protein conformation has been expanded to amyloidogenic proteins associated with Alzheimer, Parkinson, Huntington diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and others. Recent studies demonstrated that authentic PrPSc and transmissible prion disease could be generated in wild type animals by inoculation of recombinant prion protein amyloid fibrils, which are structurally different from PrPSc and lack any detectable PrPSc particles. Here we discuss a new replication mechanism designated as “deformed templating,” according to which fibrils with one cross-β folding pattern can seed formation of fibrils or particles with a fundamentally different cross-β folding pattern. Transformation of cross-β folding pattern via deformed templating provides a mechanistic explanation behind genesis of transmissible protein states induced by amyloid fibrils that are considered to be non-infectious. We postulate that deformed templating is responsible for generating conformationally diverse amyloid populations, from which conformers that are fit to replicate in a particular cellular environment are selected. We propose that deformed templating represents an essential step in the evolution of transmissible protein states.
amyloid fibrils; infectivity; neurodegenerative diseases; prion diseases; prion protein; template-assisted mechanism
Individual variations in structure and morphology of amyloid fibrils produced from a single polypeptide are likely to underlie the molecular origin of prion strains and control the efficiency of the species barrier in transmission of prions. Previously, we observed that the shape of amyloid fibrils produced from full-length prion protein (PrP 23–231) varied substantially for different batches of purified recombinant PrP. Variations in fibril morphology were also observed for different fractions that corresponded to the highly pure PrP peak collected at the last step of purification. A series of biochemical experiments revealed that the variation in fibril morphology was attributable to the presence of miniscule amounts of N-terminally truncated PrPs, where a PrP encompassing residue 31–231 was the most abundant of the truncated polypeptides. Subsequent experiments showed that the presence of small amounts of recombinant PrP 31–231 (0.1–1%) in mixtures with full-length PrP 23–231 had a dramatic impact on fibril morphology and conformation. Furthermore, the deletion of the short polybasic N-terminal region 23–30 was found to reduce the folding efficiency to the native α-helical forms and the conformational stability of α-PrP. These findings are very surprising considering that residues 23–30 are very distant from the C-terminal globular folded domain in α-PrP and from the prion folding domain in the fibrillar form. However, our studies suggest that the N-terminal polybasic region 23–30 is essential for effective folding of PrP to its native cellular conformation. This work also suggests that this region could regulate diversity of prion strains or subtypes despite its remote location from the prion folding domain.
amyloid fibrils; fibril morphology; fibril polymorphism; prion protein; electron microscopy
Fibril fragmentation is considered to be an essential step in prion replication. Recent studies have revealed a strong correlation between the incubation period to prion disease and conformational stability of synthetic prions. To gain insight into the molecular mechanism that accounts for this correlation, we proposed that the conformational stability of prion fibrils controls their intrinsic fragility or the size of smallest possible fibrillar fragments. Using amyloid fibrils produced from full-length mammalian PrP under three different growth conditions, we found a correlation between conformational stability and the smallest possible fragment sizes. Specifically, the fibrils that were conformationally less stable was found to produce shorter pieces upon fragmentation. Site-specific denaturation experiments revealed that the fibril conformational stability was controlled by the region that acquires cross-β structure. Using atomic force microscopy imaging we found that fibril fragmentation occurred in both directions, perpendicular to and along of fibrillar axis. Two mechanisms of fibril fragmentation were identified: (i) fragmentation caused by small heat shock proteins including α-B-crystalline, and (ii) fragmentation due to mechanical stress arising from adhesion of the fibril to a surface. This study provides new mechanistic insight into the prion replication mechanism and offers a plausible explanation for the correlation between conformational stability of synthetic prions and incubation time to prion disease.
amyloid fibrils; conformational stability; prion protein; fibril fragmentation; chaperones
Diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s share as common feature the accumulation of mis-folded disease-specific protein aggregates into fibrillar structures, or plaques. These fibrils may either be toxic by themselves, or act as reservoirs for smaller cytotoxic oligomers. This suggests to investigate molecules as potential therapeutics that either reduce fibril formation or increase fibril stability. One example is rat amylin, which can inhibit aggregation of human amylin, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. In the present paper, we use molecular dynamics to compare the stability of various preformed aggregates, built out of either human amylin, rat amylin, or mixtures of both. We considered two types of fibril-like oligomers: a single-layer in-register conformation, and a double-layer conformation in which the first U-shaped layer consists of rat amylin and the second layer of human amylin. Our results explain the weak amyloid-inhibiting properties of rat amylin and suggest that membrane leakage due to pore formation is responsible for the toxicity of rat amylin observed in a recent experiment. Together, our results put in question the use of rat amylin or the similar FDA approved drug pramlintide as an inhibitor of human amylin aggregation. They also point to mixed human-rat amylin fibril-like oligomers as possible model-systems for studies of amyloid formation that involve cross-species transmission.
Natural scrapie transmission from infected ewes to their lambs is thought to occur by the oral route around the time of birth. However the hypothesis that scrapie transmission can also occur before birth (in utero) is not currently favoured by most researchers. As scrapie is an opportunistic infection with multiple infection routes likely to be functional in sheep, definitive evidence for or against transmission from ewe to her developing fetus has been difficult to achieve. In addition the very early literature on maternal transmission of scrapie in sheep was compromised by lack of knowledge of the role of the PRNP (prion protein) gene in control of susceptibility to scrapie. In this study we experimentally infected pregnant ewes of known PRNP genotype with a distinctive scrapie strain (SSBP/1) and looked for evidence of transmission of SSBP/1 to the offspring. The sheep were from the NPU Cheviot flock, which has endemic natural scrapie from which SSBP/1 can be differentiated on the basis of histology, genetics of disease incidence and strain typing bioassay in mice. We used embryo transfer techniques to allow sheep fetuses of scrapie-susceptible PRNP genotypes to develop in a range of scrapie-resistant and susceptible recipient mothers and challenged the recipients with SSBP/1. Scrapie clinical disease, caused by both natural scrapie and SSBP/1, occurred in the progeny but evidence (including mouse strain typing) of SSBP/1 infection was found only in lambs born to fully susceptible recipient mothers. Progeny were not protected from transmission of natural scrapie or SSBP/1 by washing of embryos to International Embryo Transfer Society standards or by caesarean derivation and complete separation from their birth mothers. Our results strongly suggest that pre-natal (in utero) transmission of scrapie may have occurred in these sheep.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has become a conventional tool for elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of protein aggregation and, specifically, for analysis of assembly pathways, architecture, aggregation state, and heterogencity of oligomeric intermediates or mature fibrils. AFM imaging provides useful information about particle dimensions, shape, and substructure with nanometer resolution. Conventional AFM methods have been very helpful in the analysis of polymorphic assemblies formed in vitro from homogeneous proteins or peptides. However, AFM imaging on its own provides limited insight into conformation or composition of assemblies produced in the complex environment of a cell, or prepared from a mixture of proteins as a result of cross-seeding. In these cases, its combination with fluorescence microscopy (AFFM) increases its resolution.
Amyloids; Assembly; Atomic force microscopy; Atomic force fluorescence microscopy; Immunofluorescence; Oligomers
Zona pellucida (ZP) is an extracellular matrix surrounding and protecting mammalian and fish oocytes, which is responsible for sperm binding. Mammalian ZP consists of three to four glycoproteins, called ZP1, ZP2, ZP3, ZP4. These proteins polymerize into long interconnected filaments, through a common structural unit, known as the ZP domain, which consists of two domains, ZP-N and ZP-C. ZP is related in function to silkmoth chorion and in an evolutionary fashion to the teleostean fish chorion, also fibrous structures protecting the oocyte and embryo, that both have been proven to be functional amyloids. Two peptides were predicted as ‘aggregation-prone’ by our prediction tool, AMYLPRED, from the sequence of the human ZP1-N domain. Here, we present results from transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, Congo red staining and attenuated total reflectance Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR FT-IR), of two synthetic peptide-analogues of these predicted ‘aggregation-prone’ parts of the human ZP1-N domain, that we consider crucial for ZP protein polymerization, showing that they both self-assemble into amyloid-like fibrils. Based on our experimental data, we propose that human ZP (hZP) might be considered as a novel, putative, natural protective amyloid, in close analogy to silkmoth and teleostean fish chorions. Experiments are in progress to verify this proposal. We also attempt to provide insights into ZP formation, proposing a possible model for hZP1-N domain polymerization.
Proteins can be modified with eight homogenous ubiquitin chains linked by an isopeptide bond between the C-terminus of one ubiquitin and an amine from one of the seven lysines or the N-terminal methionine of the next ubiquitin. These topologically distinct ubiquitin chains signal for many essential cellular functions, such as protein degradation, cell cycle progression, DNA repair, and signal transduction. The lysine 48 (K48)-linked ubiquitin chain is one of the most abundant chains and a major proteasome-targeting signal in cells. Despite recent advancements in imaging linkage-specific polyubiquitin chains, no tool is available for imaging K48 chains in live cells. Here we report on a ubiquitination-induced fluorescence complementation (UiFC) assay for detecting K48 ubiquitin chains in vitro and in live cells. For this assay, two nonfluorescent fragments of a fluorescent protein were fused to the ubiquitin-interacting motifs (UIMs) of epsin1 protein. Upon simultaneous binding to a ubiquitin chain, the nonfluorescent fragments of the two fusion proteins are brought in close proximity to reconstitute fluorescence. When used in vitro, UiFC preferentially detected K48 ubiquitin chains with excellent signal-to-noise ratio. Time-lapse imaging revealed that UiFC is capable of monitoring increases in polyubiquitination induced by treatment with proteasome inhibitor, by agents that induce stress, and during mitophagy in live cells.
The biological cell is known to exhibit a highly crowded milieu, which significantly influences protein aggregation and association processes. As several cell degenerative diseases are related to the self-association and fibrillation of amyloidogenic peptides, understanding of the impact of macromolecular crowding on these processes is of high biomedical importance. It is further of particular relevance as most in vitro studies on amyloid aggregation have been performed in diluted solution which does not reflect the complexity of their cellular surrounding. The study presented here focuses on the self-association of the type-2 diabetes mellitus related human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP) in various crowded environments including network-forming macromolecular crowding reagents and protein crowders. It was possible to identify two competing processes: a crowder concentration and type dependent stabilization of globular off-pathway species and a – consequently - retarded or even inhibited hIAPP fibrillation reaction. The cause of these crowding effects was revealed to be mainly excluded volume in the polymeric crowders, whereas non-specific interactions seem to be most dominant in protein crowded environments. Specific hIAPP cytotoxicity assays on pancreatic β-cells reveal non-toxicity for the stabilized globular species, in contrast to the high cytotoxicity imposed by the normal fibrillation pathway. From these findings it can be concluded that cellular crowding is able to effectively stabilize the monomeric conformation of hIAPP, hence enabling the conduction of its normal physiological function and prevent this highly amyloidogenic peptide from cytotoxic aggregation and fibrillation.
Misfolding and aggregation of prion protein (PrP) is related to several
neurodegenerative diseases in humans such as Creutzfeldt–Jacob disease,
fatal familial insomnia, and Gerstmann–Straussler–Sheinker
disease. Certain applications in prion area require recombinant PrP of high
purity and quality. Here, we report an experimental procedure for expression and
purification of full-length mammalian PrP. This protocol has been proved to
yield PrP of extremely high purity that lacks PrP adducts, which are normally
generated as a result of spontaneous oxidation or degradation. We also describe
methods for the preparation of amyloid fibrils from recombinant PrP in vitro.
Recombinant PrP fibrils can be used as a noninfectious synthetic surrogate of
Prpsc for development of prion diagnostics including the
generation of PrpSc-specific antibody.
Recombinant prion protein; Inclusion body; Protein purification; Amyloid fibrils; Conformational transiton; Prion diseases
The molecular mechanisms underlying structural diversity of amyloid fibrils or prion strains formed within the same primary structure is considered to be one of the most enigmatic questions in prion biology. We report here on the direct characterization of amyloid structures using novel spectroscopic technique, hydrogen-deuterium exchange ultraviolet Raman spectroscopy. This method enables us to assess the structural differences within highly ordered cross-β cores of two amyloid states produced within the same amino acid sequence of full-length mammalian prion protein. We found that while both amyloid states consisted of β-structures, their cross β-cores exhibited hydrogen bonding of different strengths. Moreover, Raman spectroscopy revealed that both amyloid states displayed equally narrow crystalline–like bands suggesting uniform structures of cross β-cores within each state. Taken together, these data suggest highly polymorphous fibrils can display highly uniform structure of their cross β-core and belong to the same prion strain.
Raman spectroscopy; atomic force microscopy; amyloid fibril; polymorphism; structure
A number of proteins can aggregate into amyloid-like fibrils. It was noted that fibril elongation has similarities to an enzymatic reaction, where monomers or oligomers would play a role of substrate and nuclei/fibrils would play a role of enzyme. The question is how similar these processes really are. We obtained experimental data on insulin amyloid-like fibril elongation at the conditions where other processes which may impact kinetics of fibril formation are minor and fitted it using Michaelis-Menten equation. The correlation of the fit is very good and repeatable. It speaks in favour of enzyme-like model of fibril elongation. In addition, obtained and values at different conditions may help in better understanding influence of environmental factors on the process of fibril elongation.
Bioassay by end-point dilution has been employed for decades for routine determination of prion infectivity titer. Here we show that the new Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification with Teflon beads (PMCAb) can be used to estimate titers of the misfolded version of the prion protein (PrPSc) with a higher level of precision and in 3 to 6 days as opposed to two years, when compared with bioassay. For two hamster strains 263K and SSLOW, median infective doses (ID50) determined by PCMAb (PMCAb50) were found to be 1012.8 and 1012.2 per gram of brain tissue, which are 160- and 4,000-fold higher than the corresponding ID50 values measured by bioassay. These 102-103-fold differences could be attributed to a large excess of PMCAb-reactive prion protein seeds with little or no infectivity. Alternatively, the differences between ID50 and PMCAb50 could be due to higher rate of clearance of PrPSc seeds in animals versus PMCAb reactions. A well calibrated PMCAb reaction can be an efficient and cost effective method for the estimation of PrPSc titer.
The transmissible agent of prion disease consists of prion protein in β-sheet rich state (PrPSc), which can replicate its conformation according to a template-assisted mechanism. This mechanism postulates that the folding pattern of a newly recruited polypeptide accurately reproduces that of the PrPSc template. Here three conformationally distinct amyloid states were prepared in vitro using Syrian hamster recombinant PrP (rPrP) in the absence of cellular cofactors. Surprisingly, no signs of prion infection were found in Syrian hamsters inoculated with rPrP fibrils that resembled PrPSc, whereas an alternative amyloid state, with a folding pattern different from that of PrPSc induced a pathogenic process that led to transmissible prion disease. An atypical proteinase K-resistant, transmissible PrP form that resembled the structure of the amyloid seeds was observed during a clinically silent stage before authentic PrPSc emerged. The dynamics between the two forms suggest that atypical PrPres gave rise to PrPSc. While no PrPSc was found in preparations of fibrils using Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification with beads (PMCAb), rPrP fibrils gave rise to atypical PrPres in modified PMCAb suggesting that atypical PrPres was the first product of PrPC misfolding triggered by fibrils. The current work demonstrates that a new mechanism responsible for prion diseases different from the PrPSc-templated or spontaneous conversion of PrPC into PrPSc exists. This study provides compelling evidence that non-infectious amyloids with a structure different from that of PrPSc could lead to transmissible prion disease. This work has numerous implications for understanding the etiology of prion and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The most complex problem in studying multi-state protein folding is the determination of the sequence of formation of protein intermediate states. A far more complex issue is to determine at what stages of protein folding its various parts (secondary structure elements) develop. The structure and properties of different intermediate states depend in particular on these parts. An experimental approach, named μ-analysis, which allows understanding the order of formation of structural elements upon folding of a multi-state protein was used in this study. In this approach the same elements of the protein secondary structure are “tested” by substitutions of single hydrophobic amino acids and by incorporation of cysteine bridges. Single substitutions of hydrophobic amino acids contribute to yielding information on the late stages of protein folding while incorporation of ss-bridges allows obtaining data on the initial stages of folding. As a result of such an μ-analysis, we have determined the order of formation of beta-hairpins upon folding of the green fluorescent protein.
The amyloid fibrils formed by islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP) are associated with type II diabetes. One of the proposed mechanisms of the toxicity of IAPP is that it causes membrane damage. The fatal mutation of S20G human IAPP was reported to lead to early onset of type II diabetes and high tendency of amyloid formation in vitro. Characterizing the structural features of the S20G mutant in its monomeric state is experimentally difficult because of its unusually fast aggregation rate. Computational work complements experimental studies. We performed a series of molecular dynamics simulations of the monomeric state of human variants in the membrane. Our simulations are validated by extensive comparisons with experimental data. We find that a helical disruption at His18 is common to both human variants. An L-shaped motif of S20G mutant is observed in one of the conformational families. This motif that bends at His18 resembles the overall topology of IAPP fibrils. The conformational preorganization into the fibril-like topology provides a possible explanation for the fast aggregation rate of S20G IAPP.
Prion replication is believed to consist of two components, a growth or elongation of infectious isoform of the prion protein (PrPSc) particles and their fragmentation, a process that provides new replication centers. The current study introduced an experimental approach that employs Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification with beads (PMCAb) and relies on a series of kinetic experiments for assessing elongation rates of PrPSc particles. Four prion strains including two strains with short incubation times to disease (263K and Hyper) and two strains with very long incubation times (SSLOW and LOTSS) were tested. The elongation rate of brain-derived PrPSc was found to be strain-specific. Strains with short incubation times had higher rates than strains with long incubation times. Surprisingly, the strain-specific elongation rates increased substantially for all four strains after they were subjected to six rounds of serial PMCAb. In parallel to an increase in elongation rates, the percentages of diglycosylated PrP glycoforms increased in PMCAb-derived PrPSc comparing to those of brain-derived PrPSc. These results suggest that PMCAb selects the same molecular features regardless of strain initial characteristics and that convergent evolution of PrPSc properties occurred during in vitro amplification. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that each prion strain is comprised of a variety of conformers or ‘quasi-species’ and that change in the prion replication environment gives selective advantage to those conformers that replicate most effectively under specific environment.
The transmissible agent of prion disease consists of a prion protein in its abnormal, β-sheet rich state (PrPSc), which is capable of replicating itself according to the template-assisted mechanism. This mechanism postulates that the folding pattern of a newly recruited polypeptide chain accurately reproduces that of a PrPSc template. Here we report that authentic PrPSc and transmissible prion disease can be generated de novo in wild type animals by recombinant PrP (rPrP) amyloid fibrils, which are structurally different from PrPSc and lack any detectable PrPSc particles. When induced by rPrP fibrils, a long silent stage that involved two serial passages preceded development of the clinical disease. Once emerged, the prion disease was characterized by unique clinical, neuropathological, and biochemical features. The long silent stage to the disease was accompanied by significant transformation in neuropathological properties and biochemical features of the proteinase K-resistant PrP material (PrPres) before authentic PrPSc evolved. The current work illustrates that transmissible prion diseases can be induced by PrP structures different from that of authentic PrPSc and suggests that a new mechanism different from the classical templating exists. This new mechanism designated as “deformed templating” postulates that a change in the PrP folding pattern from the one present in rPrP fibrils to an alternative specific for PrPSc can occur. The current work provides important new insight into the mechanisms underlying genesis of the transmissible protein states and has numerous implications for understanding the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases.
The transmissible agent of prion disease consists of a prion protein in its abnormal conformation (PrPSc), which replicates itself according to the template-assisted mechanism. This mechanism postulates that the folding pattern of a newly recruited polypeptide chain accurately reproduces that of a PrPSc. The current study reports that infectious prions and transmissible prion disease can be triggered in wild type animals by amyloid fibrils produced from recombinant prion prtotein, which are structurally different from PrPSc and lacks any detectable PrPSc particles. This work introduces a new hypothesis that transmissible prion diseases can be induced by prion protein structures different from that of authentic PrPSc and suggests that a new mechanism for triggering PrPSc formation different from the classical templating exists. The current work provides important new insight into the mechanisms underlying genesis and evolution of the transmissible states of the prion protein and has numerous implications for understanding the etiology of prion and other neurodegenerative diseases.
We report the results of solid state nuclear magnetic (NMR) measurements on amyloid fibrils formed by the full-length prion protein PrP (residues 23-231, Syrian hamster sequence). Measurements of intermolecular 13C-13C dipole-dipole couplings in selectively carbonyl-labeled samples indicate that β-sheets in these fibrils have an in-register parallel structure, as previously observed in amyloid fibrils associated with Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes and in yeast prion fibrils. Two-dimensional 13C-13C and 15N-13C solid state NMR spectra of a uniformly 15N,13C-labeled sample indicate that a relatively small fraction of the full sequence, localized to the C-terminal end, forms the structurally ordered, immobilized core. Although unique site-specific assignments of the solid state NMR signals can not be obtained from these spectra, analysis with a Monte Carlo/simulated annealing algorithm suggests that the core is comprised primarily of residues in the 173-224 range. These results are consistent with earlier electron paramagnetic resonance studies of fibrils formed by residues 90-231 of the human PrP sequence, formed under somewhat different conditions, suggesting that an in-register parallel β-sheet structure formed by the C-terminal end may be a general feature of PrP fibrils prepared in vitro.
amyloid; prion; cross-β; scrapie; dipolar recoupling; magic-angle spinning
It has been well established that a single amino acid sequence can give rise to several conformationally distinct amyloid states. The extent to which amyloid structures formed within the same sequence are different, however, remains unclear. To address this question we studied two amyloid states (referred to as R- and S-fibrils) produced in vitro from highly purified full-length recombinant prion protein (PrP). Several biophysical techniques including X-ray diffraction, CD, FTIR, hydrogen-deuterium exchange, proteinase K-digestion, and binding of a conformation-sensitive fluorescence dye revealed that R- and S-fibrils have substantially different secondary, tertiary and quaternary structures. While both states displayed a 4.8 Å meridional X-ray diffraction typical for amyloid cross-β spines, they showed markedly different equatorial profiles suggesting different folding pattern of β-strands. The experiments on hydrogen-deuterium exchange monitored by FTIR revealed that only small fractions of amide protons were protected in R- or S-fibrils, an argument for the dynamic nature of their cross-β structure. Despite this fact, both amyloid states were found to be very stable conformationally as judged from temperature-induced denaturation monitored by FTIR and the conformation-sensitive dye. Upon heating to 80 °C, only local unfolding was revealed, while individual state-specific cross-β features were preserved. The current studies demonstrated that the two amyloid states formed by the same amino acid sequence exhibited significantly different folding patterns that presumably reflect two different architectures of cross-β structure. Both S- and R-fibrils, however, shared high conformational stability arguing that the energy landscape for protein folding and aggregation can contain several deep free energy minima.
amyloid fibrils; prion protein; X-ray diffraction; FTIR; hydrogen-deuterium exchange
According to the prevailing view, soluble oligomers or small fibrillar fragments are considered to be the most toxic species in prion diseases. To test this hypothesis, two conformationally different amyloid states were produced from the same highly pure recombinant full-length prion protein (rPrP). The cytotoxic potential of intact fibrils and fibrillar fragments generated by sonication from these two states was tested using cultured cells.
For one amyloid state, fibril fragmentation was found to enhance its cytotoxic potential, whereas for another amyloid state formed within the same amino acid sequence, the fragmented fibrils were found to be substantially less toxic than the intact fibrils. Consistent with the previous studies, the toxic effects were more pronounced for cell cultures expressing normal isoform of the prion protein (PrPC) at high levels confirming that cytotoxicity was in part PrPC-dependent. Silencing of PrPC expression by small hairpin RNAs designed to silence expression of human PrPC (shRNA-PrPC) deminished the deleterious effects of the two amyloid states to a different extent, suggesting that the role of PrPC-mediated and PrPC-independent mechanisms depends on the structure of the aggregates.
This work provides a direct illustration that the relationship between an amyloid's physical dimension and its toxic potential is not unidirectional but is controlled by the molecular structure of prion protein (PrP) molecules within aggregated states. Depending on the structure, a decrease in size of amyloid fibrils can either enhance or abolish their cytotoxic effect. Regardless of the molecular structure or size of PrP aggregates, silencing of PrPC expression can be exploited to reduce their deleterious effects.