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J Biol Chem. 2004 Jul 30;279(31):32354-9. Epub 2004 Jun 1.

Hydration and packing effects on prion folding and beta-sheet conversion. High pressure spectroscopy and pressure perturbation calorimetry studies.

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  • 1Departamento de Bioquímica Médica, Centro Nacional de Ressonāncia Magnética Nuclear de Macromoléculas, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 21941-590, Brazil.


The main hypothesis for prion diseases proposes that the cellular protein (PrP(C)) can be altered into a misfolded, beta-sheet-rich isoform (PrP(Sc)), which undergoes aggregation and triggers the onset of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Here, we compare the stability against pressure and the thermomechanical properties of the alpha-helical and beta-sheet conformations of recombinant murine prion protein, designated as alpha-rPrP and beta-rPrP, respectively. High temperature induces aggregates and a large gain in intermolecular antiparallel beta-sheet (beta-rPrP), a conformation that shares structural similarity with PrP(Sc). alpha-rPrP is highly stable, and only pressures above 5 kilobars (1 kilobar = 100 MegaPascals) cause reversible denaturation, a process that leads to a random and turnrich conformation with concomitant loss of alpha-helix, as measured by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. In contrast, aggregates of beta-rPrP are very sensitive to pressure, undergoing transition into a dissociated species that differs from the denatured form derived from alpha-rPrP. The higher susceptibility to pressure of beta-rPrP can be explained by its less hydrated structure. Pressure perturbation calorimetry supports the view that the accessible surface area of alpha-rPrP is much higher than that of beta-rPrP, which explains the lower degree of hydration of beta-rPrP. Our findings shed new light on the mechanism of prion conversion and show how water plays a prominent role. Our results allow us to propose a volume and free energy diagram of the different species involved in the conversion and aggregation. The existence of different folded conformations as well as different denatured states of PrP may explain the elusive character of its conversion into a pathogenic form.

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