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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jun 1;101(22):8342-7. Epub 2004 May 21.

Evidence for assembly of prions with left-handed beta-helices into trimers.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Studies using low-resolution fiber diffraction, electron microscopy, and atomic force microscopy on various amyloid fibrils indicate that the misfolded conformers must be modular, compact, and adopt a cross-beta structure. In an earlier study, we used electron crystallography to delineate molecular models of the N-terminally truncated, disease-causing isoform (PrP(Sc)) of the prion protein, designated PrP 27-30, which polymerizes into amyloid fibrils, but we were unable to choose between a trimeric or hexameric arrangement of right- or left-handed beta-helical models. From a study of 119 all-beta folds observed in globular proteins, we have now determined that, if PrP(Sc) follows a known protein fold, it adopts either a beta-sandwich or parallel beta-helical architecture. With increasing evidence arguing for a parallel beta-sheet organization in amyloids, we contend that the sequence of PrP is compatible with a parallel left-handed beta-helical fold. Left-handed beta-helices readily form trimers, providing a natural template for a trimeric model of PrP(Sc). This trimeric model accommodates the PrP sequence from residues 89-175 in a beta-helical conformation with the C terminus (residues 176-227), retaining the disulfide-linked alpha-helical conformation observed in the normal cellular isoform. In addition, the proposed model matches the structural constraints of the PrP 27-30 crystals, positioning residues 141-176 and the N-linked sugars appropriately. Our parallel left-handed beta-helical model provides a coherent framework that is consistent with many structural, biochemical, immunological, and propagation features of prions. Moreover, the parallel left-handed beta-helical model for PrP(Sc) may provide important clues to the structure of filaments found in some other neurodegenerative diseases.

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