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Top Curr Chem. 2011;305:135-67. doi: 10.1007/128_2011_165.

Prion protein and its conformational conversion: a structural perspective.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44120, USA.


The key molecular event in the pathogenesis of prion diseases is the conformational conversion of a cellular prion protein, PrP(C), into a misfolded form, PrP(Sc). In contrast to PrP(C) that is monomeric and α-helical, PrP(Sc) is oligomeric in nature and rich in β-sheet structure. According to the "protein-only" model, PrP(Sc) itself represents the infectious prion agent responsible for transmissibility of prion disorders. While this model is supported by rapidly growing experimental data, detailed mechanistic and structural aspects of prion protein conversion remain enigmatic. In this chapter we describe recent advances in understanding biophysical and biochemical aspects of prion diseases, with a special focus on structural underpinnings of prion protein conversion, the structural basis of prion strains, and generation of prion infectivity in vitro from bacterially-expressed recombinant PrP.

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