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Prion. 2012 Nov-Dec;6(5):489-97. doi: 10.4161/pri.22217. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

Slow spontaneous α-to-β structural conversion in a non-denaturing neutral condition reveals the intrinsically disordered property of the disulfide-reduced recombinant mouse prion protein.

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Institute of Biological Chemistry, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.


In prion diseases, the normal prion protein is transformed by an unknown mechanism from a mainly α-helical structure to a β-sheet-rich, disease-related isomer. In this study, we surprisingly found that a slow, spontaneous α-to-coil-to-β transition could be monitored by circular dichroism spectroscopy in one full-length mouse recombinant prion mutant protein, denoted S132C/N181C, in which the endogenous cysteines C179 and C214 were replaced by Ala and S132 and N181 were replaced by Cys, during incubation in a non-denaturing neutral buffer. No denaturant was required to destabilize the native state for the conversion. The product after this structural conversion is toxic β-oligomers with high fluorescence intensity when binding with thioflavin T. Site-directed spin-labeling ESR data suggested that the structural conversion involves the unfolding of helix 2. After examining more protein mutants, it was found that the spontaneous structural conversion is due to the disulfide-deletion (C to A mutations). The recombinant wild-type mouse prion protein could also be transformed into β-oligomers and amyloid fibrils simply by dissolving and incubating the protein in 0.5 mM NaOAc (pH 7) and 1 mM DTT at 25°C with no need of adding any denaturant to destabilize the prion protein. Our findings indicate the important role of disulfide bond reduction on the structural conversion of the recombinant prion protein, and highlight the special "intrinsically disordered" conformational character of the recombinant prion protein.

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