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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Mar;43(3):372-82. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2010.11.007. Epub 2010 Nov 19.

High hydrophobic amino acid exposure is responsible of the neurotoxic effects induced by E200K or D202N disease-related mutations of the human prion protein.

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Laboratory of Pharmacology, Dept. Oncology, Biology and Genetics, University of Genova, Genova, Italy.


Mutations in prion protein are thought to be causative of inherited prion diseases favoring the spontaneous conversion of the normal prion protein into the scrapie-like pathological prion protein. We previously reported that, by controlled thermal denaturation, human prion protein fragment 90-231 acquires neurotoxic properties when transformed in a β-rich conformation, resembling the scrapie-like conformation. In this study we generated prion protein fragment 90-231 bearing mutations identified in familial prion diseases (D202N and E200K), to analyze their role in the induction of a neurotoxic conformation. Prion protein fragment 90-231(wild type) and the D202N mutant were not toxic in native conformation but induced cell death only after thermal denaturation. Conversely, prion protein fragment 90-231(E200K) was highly toxic in its native structure, suggesting that E200K mutation per se favors the acquisition of a peptide neurotoxic conformation. To identify the structural determinants of prion protein fragment 90-231 toxicity, we show that while the wild type peptide is structured in α-helix, hPrP90-231 E200K is spontaneously refolded in a β-structured conformer characterized by increased proteinase K resistance and propensity to generate fibrils. However, the most significant difference induced by E200K mutation in prion protein fragment 90-231 structure in native conformation we observed, was an increase in the exposure of hydrophobic amino-acids on protein surface that was detected in wild type and D202N proteins only after thermal denaturation. In conclusion, we propose that increased hydrophobicity is one of the main determinants of toxicity induced by different mutations in prion protein-derived peptides.

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