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EMBO J. 2001 Nov 15;20(22):6236-45.

Strains of [PSI(+)] are distinguished by their efficiencies of prion-mediated conformational conversion.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Yeast prions are protein-based genetic elements that produce phenotypes through self-perpetuating changes in protein conformation. For the prion [PSI(+)] this protein is Sup35, which is comprised of a prion-determining region (NM) fused to a translational termination region. [PSI(+)] strains (variants) with different heritable translational termination defects (weak or strong) can exist in the same genetic background. [PSI(+)] variants are reminiscent of mammalian prion strains, which can be passaged in the same mouse strain yet have different disease latencies and brain pathologies. We found that [PSI(+)] variants contain different ratios of Sup35 in the prion and non-prion state that correlate with different translation termination efficiencies. Indeed, the partially purified prion form of Sup35 from a strong [PSI(+)] variant converted purified NM much more efficiently than that of several weak variants. However, this difference was lost in a second round of conversion in vitro. Thus, [PSI(+)] variants result from differences in the efficiency of prion-mediated conversion, and the maintenance of [PSI(+)] variants involves more than nucleated conformational conversion (templating) to NM alone.

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