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J Mol Biol. 2001 Nov 2;313(4):861-72.

Chaperonin-mediated de novo generation of prion protein aggregates.

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Department of Cellular Biochemistry, Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried, D-82152, Germany.


The infectious prion protein, PrP(Sc), a predominantly beta-sheet aggregate, is derived from PrP(C), the largely alpha-helical cellular isoform of PrP. Conformational conversion of PrP(C) into PrP(Sc) has been suggested to involve a chaperone-like factor. Here we report that the bacterial chaperonin GroEL, a close homolog of eukaryotic Hsp60, can catalyze the aggregation of chemically denatured and of folded, recombinant PrP in a model reaction in vitro. Aggregates form upon ATP-dependent release of PrP from chaperonin and have certain properties of PrP(Sc), including a high beta-sheet content, the ability to bind the dye Congo red, detergent-insolubility and increased protease-resistance. A conserved sequence segment of PrP (residues 90-121), critical for PrP(Sc) generation in vivo, is also required for chaperonin-mediated aggregate formation in vitro. Initial binding of refolded, alpha-helical PrP to chaperonin is mediated by the unstructured N-terminal segment of PrP (residues 23-121) and is followed by a rearrangement of the globular PrP core-domain. These results show that chaperonins of the Hsp60 class can, in principle, mediate PrP aggregation de novo, i.e. independently of a pre-existent PrP(Sc) template.

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