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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Aug 31;101(35):12934-9. Epub 2004 Aug 23.

Effects of Q/N-rich, polyQ, and non-polyQ amyloids on the de novo formation of the [PSI+] prion in yeast and aggregation of Sup35 in vitro.

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Department of Microbiology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA.


Prions are infectious protein conformations that are generally ordered protein aggregates. In the absence of prions, newly synthesized molecules of these same proteins usually maintain a conventional soluble conformation. However, prions occasionally arise even without a homologous prion template. The conformational switch that results in the de novo appearance of yeast prions with glutamine/aspargine (Q/N)-rich prion domains (e.g., [PSI+]), is promoted by heterologous prions with a similar domain (e.g., [RNQ+], also known as [PIN+]), or by overexpression of proteins with prion-like Q-, N-, or Q/N-rich domains. This finding led to the hypothesis that aggregates of heterologous proteins provide an imperfect template on which the new prion is seeded. Indeed, we show that newly forming Sup35 and preexisting Rnq1 aggregates always colocalize when [PSI+] appearance is facilitated by the [RNQ+] prion, and that Rnq1 fibers enhance the in vitro formation of fibers by the prion domain of Sup35 (NM). The proteins do not however form mixed, interdigitated aggregates. We also demonstrate that aggregating variants of the polyQ-containing domain of huntingtin promote the de novo conversion of Sup35 into [PSI+]; whereas nonaggregating variants of huntingtin and aggregates of non-polyQ amyloidogenic proteins, transthyretin, alpha-synuclein, and synphilin do not. Furthermore, transthyretin and alpha-synuclein amyloids do not facilitate NM aggregation in vitro, even though in [PSI+] cells NM and transthyretin aggregates also occasionally colocalize. Our data, especially the in vitro reproduction of the highly specific heterologous seeding effect, provide strong support for the hypothesis of cross-seeding in the spontaneous initiation of prion states.

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