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Biochemistry. 2005 Apr 19;44(15):5862-72.

Triggers of full-length tau aggregation: a role for partially folded intermediates.

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Biophysics Program, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


Alzheimer's disease is characterized in part by the accumulation of full-length tau proteins into intracellular filamentous inclusions. To clarify the events that trigger lesion formation, the aggregation of recombinant full-length four-repeat tau (htau40) was examined in vitro under near-physiological conditions using transmission electron microscopy and spectroscopy methods. In the absence of exogenous inducers, tau protein behaved as an assembly-incompetent monomer with little tertiary structure. The addition of anionic inducers led to fibrillization with nucleation-dependent kinetics. On the basis of circular dichroism spectroscopy and reactivity with thioflavin S and 8-anilino-1-naphthalenesulfonic acid fluorescent probes, the inducer stabilized a monomeric species with the folding characteristics of a premolten globule state. Planar aromatic dyes capable of binding the intermediate state with high affinity were also capable of triggering fibrillization in the absence of other inducers. Dye-mediated aggregation was characterized by concentration-dependent decreases in lag time, indicating increased nucleation rates, and submicromolar critical concentrations, indicating a final equilibrium that favored the filamentous state. The data suggest that the rate-limiting barrier for filament formation from full-length tau is conformational and that the aggregation reaction is triggered by environmental conditions that stabilize assembly-competent conformations.

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