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J Mol Biol. 2011 Apr 22;408(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2011.02.025. Epub 2011 Feb 17.

Radically different amyloid conformations dictate the seeding specificity of a chimeric Sup35 prion.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, California Institute of Quantitative Biomedical Science, University of California, San Francisco, 1700 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


A remarkable feature of prion biology is that the same prion protein can misfold into more than one infectious conformation, and these conformations in turn lead to distinct heritable prion strains with different phenotypes. The yeast prion [PSI(+)] is a powerful system for studying how changes in strain conformation affect cross-species transmission. We have previously established that a chimera of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae (SC) and Candida albicans (CA) Sup35 prion domains can cross the SC/CA species barrier in a strain-dependent manner. In vitro, the conversion of the monomeric chimera into the prion (amyloid) form can be seeded by either SC or CA Sup35 amyloid fibers, resulting in two strains: Chim[SC] and Chim[CA]. These strains have a "molecular memory" of their originating species in that Chim[SC] preferentially seeds the conversion of SC Sup35, and vice versa. To investigate how this species specificity is conformationally encoded, we used amide exchange and limited proteolysis to probe the structures of these two strains. We found that the amyloid cores of Chim[SC] and Chim[CA] are predominantly confined to the SC-derived and CA-derived residues, respectively. In addition, the chimera is able to propagate the Chim[CA] conformation even when the SC residues comprising the Chim[SC] core were deleted. Thus, the two strains have non-overlapping and modular amyloid cores that determine whether SC or CA residues are presented on the growing face of the prion seed. These observations establish how conformations determine the specificity of prion transmission and demonstrate a remarkable plasticity to amyloid misfolding.

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