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J Am Chem Soc. 2011 Aug 10;133(31):12229-37. doi: 10.1021/ja2045259. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Copper redox cycling in the prion protein depends critically on binding mode.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90032, USA.


The prion protein (PrP) takes up 4-6 equiv of copper in its extended N-terminal domain, composed of the octarepeat (OR) segment (human sequence residues 60-91) and two mononuclear binding sites (at His96 and His111; also referred to as the non-OR region). The OR segment responds to specific copper concentrations by transitioning from a multi-His mode at low copper levels to a single-His, amide nitrogen mode at high levels (Chattopadhyay et al. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2005, 127, 12647-12656). The specific function of PrP in healthy tissue is unclear, but numerous reports link copper uptake to a neuroprotective role that regulates cellular stress (Stevens, et al. PLoS Pathog.2009, 5 (4), e1000390). A current working hypothesis is that the high occupancy binding mode quenches copper's inherent redox cycling, thus, protecting against the production of reactive oxygen species from unregulated Fenton type reactions. Here, we directly test this hypothesis by performing detailed pH-dependent electrochemical measurements on both low and high occupancy copper binding modes. In contrast to the current belief, we find that the low occupancy mode completely quenches redox cycling, but high occupancy leads to the gentle production of hydrogen peroxide through a catalytic reduction of oxygen facilitated by the complex. These electrochemical findings are supported by independent kinetic measurements that probe for ascorbate usage and also peroxide production. Hydrogen peroxide production is also observed from a segment corresponding to the non-OR region. Collectively, these results overturn the current working hypothesis and suggest, instead, that the redox cycling of copper bound to PrP in the high occupancy mode is not quenched, but is regulated. The observed production of hydrogen peroxide suggests a mechanism that could explain PrP's putative role in cellular signaling.

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