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Protein Sci. 2012 Jan;21(1):26-37. doi: 10.1002/pro.754. Epub 2011 Nov 23.

Ribonuclease A suggests how proteins self-chaperone against amyloid fiber formation.

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Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biological Chemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, UCLA-DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics, University of California-Los Angeles, 611 Charles Young Drive East, CA 90095-1570, USA.


Genomic analyses have identified segments with high fiber-forming propensity in many proteins not known to form amyloid. Proteins are often protected from entering the amyloid state by molecular chaperones that permit them to fold in isolation from identical molecules; but, how do proteins self-chaperone their folding in the absence of chaperones? Here, we explore this question with the stable protein ribonuclease A (RNase A). We previously identified fiber-forming segments of amyloid-related proteins and demonstrated that insertion of these segments into the C-terminal hinge loop of nonfiber-forming RNase A can convert RNase A into the amyloid state through three-dimensional domain-swapping, where the inserted fiber-forming segments interact to create a steric zipper spine. In this study, we convert RNase A into amyloid-like fibers by increasing the loop length and hence conformational freedom of an endogenous fiber-forming segment, SSTSAASS, in the N-terminal hinge loop. This is accomplished by sandwiching SSTSAASS between inserted Gly residues. With these inserts, SSTSAASS is now able to form the steric zipper spine, allowing RNase A to form amyloid-like fibers. We show that these fibers contain RNase A molecules retaining their enzymatic activity and therefore native-like structure. Thus, RNase A appears to prevent fiber formation by limiting the conformational freedom of this fiber-forming segment from entering a steric zipper. Our observations suggest that proteins have evolved to self-chaperone by using similar protective mechanisms.

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