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J Mol Biol. 2004 Dec 3;344(4):1021-35.

Characterization of the structure and the amyloidogenic properties of the Josephin domain of the polyglutamine-containing protein ataxin-3.

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  • 1National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, London NW7 1AA, UK.


Expansion of the polyglutamine (polyQ) region in the protein ataxin-3 is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia type 3, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that belongs to the family of polyQ diseases. Increasing evidence indicates that protein aggregation and fibre formation play an important role in these pathologies. In a previous study, we determined the domain architecture of ataxin-3, suggesting that it comprises a globular domain, named Josephin, and a more flexible C-terminal region, that includes the polyQ tract. Here, we have characterised for the first time the biophysical properties of the isolated Josephin motif, showing that it is an autonomously folded unit and that it has no significant interactions with the C-terminal region. Study of its thermodynamic stability indicates that Josephin has an intrinsic tendency to aggregate and forms temperature-induced fibrils similar to those described for expanded ataxin-3. We show that, under destabilising conditions, the behaviours of the isolated Josephin domain and ataxin-3 are extremely similar. Our data therefore strongly suggest that the stability and aggregation properties of non-expanded ataxin-3 are determined by those of the Josephin domain, which is sufficient to reproduce the behaviour of the full-length protein. Our data support a mechanism in which the thermodynamic stability of ataxin-3 is governed by the properties of the Josephin domain, but the presence of an expanded polyQ tract increases dramatically the protein's tendency to aggregate.

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