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PLoS Biol. 2012;10(12):e1001459. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001459. Epub 2012 Dec 27.

Functional amyloidogenesis and cytotoxicity-insights into biology and pathology.

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Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Prions are self-templating protein structures that can be transferred from organism to organism. The [Het-s] prion propagates as a functional amyloid aggregate in the filamentous fungi Podospora anserina, and is involved in mediating heterokaryon incompatibility. Fusion of a P. anserina strain harboring the [Het-s] prion with another strain expressing the soluble Het-S protein results in cell death. The mechanism of Het-s/Het-S-mediated cell death has now been revealed in a paper just published in PLOS Biology. The study shows that Het-s and Het-S C-terminal domain co-amyloidogenesis induces a profound conformational rearrangement in the N-terminal Het-S HeLo domain, resulting in the exposure of a nascent transmembrane helix. Oligomerization of these helices leads to pore formation, leakage of the cytosolic contents, and subsequent cell death. Thus, Het-s amyloid plays a major role in the life cycle of P. anserina by orchestrating a complex conformational change in the Het-S protein, resulting in cytotoxicity by compromising membrane integrity. This ability of Het-s functional amyloid to initiate programmed cytotoxicity by mediating a conformational change in another protein significantly expands the functional repertoire of amyloid. Moreover, the mechanism of Het-S cell killing may be similar to the mechanism by which some pathological amyloid proteins lead to the demise of post-mitotic tissue.

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