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J Biol Chem. 2012 Jan 2;287(1):736-47. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.238477. Epub 2011 Nov 18.

Binding with nucleic acids or glycosaminoglycans converts soluble protein oligomers to amyloid.

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Department of Immunology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Ample evidence suggests that almost all polypeptides can either adopt a native structure (folded or intrinsically disordered) or form misfolded amyloid fibrils. Soluble protein oligomers exist as an intermediate between these two states, and their cytotoxicity has been implicated in the pathology of multiple human diseases. However, the mechanism by which soluble protein oligomers develop into insoluble amyloid fibrils is not clear, and investigation of this important issue is hindered by the unavailability of stable protein oligomers. Here, we have obtained stabilized protein oligomers generated from common native proteins. These oligomers exert strong cytotoxicity and display a common conformational structure shared with known protein oligomers. They are soluble and remain stable in solution. Intriguingly, the stabilized protein oligomers interact preferentially with both nucleic acids and glycosaminoglycans (GAG), which facilitates their rapid conversion into insoluble amyloid. Concomitantly, binding with nucleic acids or GAG strongly diminished the cytotoxicity of the protein oligomers. EGCG, a small molecule that was previously shown to directly bind to protein oligomers, effectively inhibits the conversion to amyloid. These results indicate that stabilized oligomers of common proteins display characteristics similar to those of disease-associated protein oligomers and represent immediate precursors of less toxic amyloid fibrils. Amyloid conversion is potently expedited by certain physiological factors, such as nucleic acids and GAGs. These findings concur with reports of cofactor involvement with disease-associated amyloid and shed light on potential means to interfere with the pathogenic properties of misfolded proteins.

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