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Biochemistry. 2020 Jan 9. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.9b00780. [Epub ahead of print]

Early Metastable Assembly during the Stress-Induced Formation of Worm-like Amyloid Fibrils of Nucleic Acid Binding Domains of TDP-43.

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Physical and Materials Chemistry Division , CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory , Dr. Homi Bhabha Road , Pune 411008 , India.
Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR) , Ghaziabad 201002 , India.


TDP-43 protein travels between the cytosol and the nucleus to perform its nucleic acid binding functions through its two tandem RNA recognition motif domains (TDP-43tRRM). When exposed to various environmental stresses, it forms abnormal aggregates in the cytosol of neurons, which are the hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other TDP-43 proteinopathies. However, the nature of early structural changes upon stress sensing and the consequent steps during the course of aggregation are not well understood. In this study, we show that under low-pH conditions, mimicking starvation stress, TDP-43tRRM undergoes a conformational opening reaction linked to the protonation of buried ionizable residues and grows into a metastable oligomeric assembly (called the "low-pH form" or the "L form"). In the L form, the protein molecules have disrupted tertiary structure, solvent-exposed hydrophobic patches, and mobile side chains but the native-like secondary structure remains intact. The L form structure is held by weak interactions and has a steep dependence on ionic strength. In the presence of as little as 15 mM KCl, it fully misfolds and further oligomerizes to form a β-sheet rich "β form" in at least two distinct steps. The β form has an ordered, stable structure that resembles worm-like amyloid fibrils. The unstructured regions of the protein gain structure during L ⇌ β conversion. Our results suggest that TDP-43tRRM could function as a stress sensor and support a recent model in which stress sensing during neurodegeneration occurs by assembly of proteins into metastable assemblies that are precursors to the solid aggregates.

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