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Nature. 2007 Sep 13;449(7159):233-7. Epub 2007 Sep 2.

The structural basis of yeast prion strain variants.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California San Francisco and California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, San Francisco, California 94158-2542, USA.


Among the many surprises to arise from studies of prion biology, perhaps the most unexpected is the strain phenomenon whereby a single protein can misfold into structurally distinct, infectious states that cause distinguishable phenotypes. Similarly, proteins can adopt a spectrum of conformations in non-infectious diseases of protein folding; some are toxic and others are well tolerated. However, our understanding of the structural differences underlying prion strains and how these differences alter their physiological impact remains limited. Here we use a combination of solution NMR, amide hydrogen/deuterium (H/D) exchange and mutagenesis to study the structural differences between two strain conformations, termed Sc4 and Sc37 (ref. 5), of the yeast Sup35 prion. We find that these two strains have an overlapping amyloid core spanning most of the Gln/Asn-rich first 40 amino acids that is highly protected from H/D exchange and very sensitive to mutation. These features indicate that the cores are composed of tightly packed beta-sheets possibly resembling 'steric zipper' structures revealed by X-ray crystallography of Sup35-derived peptides. The stable structure is greatly expanded in the Sc37 conformation to encompass the first 70 amino acids, revealing why this strain shows increased fibre stability and decreased ability to undergo chaperone-mediated replication. Our findings establish that prion strains involve large-scale conformational differences and provide a structural basis for understanding a broad range of functional studies, including how conformational changes alter the physiological impact of prion strains.

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