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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Feb 20;104(8):2649-54. Epub 2007 Feb 13.

A natively unfolded yeast prion monomer adopts an ensemble of collapsed and rapidly fluctuating structures.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The yeast prion protein Sup35 is a translation termination factor, whose activity is modulated by sequestration into a self-perpetuating amyloid. The prion-determining domain, NM, consists of two distinct regions: an amyloidogenic N terminus domain (N) and a charged solubilizing middle region (M). To gain insight into prion conversion, we used single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (SM-FRET) and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy to investigate the structure and dynamics of monomeric NM. Low protein concentrations in these experiments prevented the formation of obligate on-pathway oligomers, allowing us to study early folding intermediates in isolation from higher-order species. SM-FRET experiments on a dual-labeled amyloid core variant (N21C/S121C, retaining wild-type prion behavior) indicated that the N region of NM adopts a collapsed form similar to "burst-phase" intermediates formed during the folding of many globular proteins, even though it lacks a typical hydrophobic core. The mean distance between residues 21 and 121 was approximately equal to 43 A. This increased with denaturant in a noncooperative fashion to approximately equal to 63 A, suggesting a multitude of interconverting species rather than a small number of discrete monomeric conformers. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy analysis of singly labeled NM revealed fast conformational fluctuations on the 20- to 300-ns time scale. Quenching from proximal and distal tyrosines resulted in distinct fast and slower fluctuations. Our results indicate that native monomeric NM is composed of an ensemble of structures, having a collapsed and rapidly fluctuating N region juxtaposed with a more extended M region. The stability of such ensembles is likely to play a key role in prion conversion.

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