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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Nov 2;107(44):18850-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1012336107. Epub 2010 Oct 14.

Identification of a helical intermediate in trifluoroethanol-induced alpha-synuclein aggregation.

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School of Applied and Engineering Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.


Because oligomers and aggregates of the protein α-synuclein (αS) are implicated in the initiation and progression of Parkinson's disease, investigation of various αS aggregation pathways and intermediates aims to clarify the etiology of this common neurodegenerative disorder. Here, we report the formation of short, flexible, β-sheet-rich fibrillar species by incubation of αS in the presence of intermediate (10-20% v/v) concentrations of 2,2,2-trifluoroethanol (TFE). We find that efficient production of these TFE fibrils is strongly correlated with the TFE-induced formation of a monomeric, partly helical intermediate conformation of αS, which exists in equilibrium with the natively disordered state at low [TFE] and with a highly α-helical conformation at high [TFE]. This partially helical intermediate is on-pathway to the TFE-induced formation of both the highly helical monomeric conformation and the fibrillar species. TFE-induced conformational changes in the monomer protein are similar for wild-type αS and the C-terminal truncation mutant αS1-102, indicating that TFE-induced structural transitions involve the N terminus of the protein. Moreover, the secondary structural transitions of three Parkinson's disease-associated mutants, A30P, A53T, and E46K, are nearly identical to wild-type αS, but oligomerization rates differ substantially among the mutants. Our results add to a growing body of evidence indicating the involvement of helical intermediates in protein aggregation processes. Given that αS is known to populate both highly and partially helical states upon association with membranes, these TFE-induced conformations imply relevant pathways for membrane-induced αS aggregation both in vitro and in vivo.

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