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Biochemistry. 1997 Mar 25;36(12):3543-53.

Physical studies of conformational plasticity in a recombinant prion protein.

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Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


PrP(Sc) is known to be the major, if not the only, component of the infectious prion. Limited proteolysis of PrP(Sc) produces an N-terminally truncated polypeptide of about 142 residues, designated PrP 27-30. Recently, a recombinant protein (rPrP) of 142 residues corresponding to the Syrian hamster PrP 27-30 was expressed in Escherichia coli and purified (Mehlhorn et al., 1996). rPrP has been refolded into both alpha-helical and beta-sheet structures as well as various intermediates in aqueous buffers. The beta-sheet state and two pH-dependent alpha-helical states were characterized by CD and NMR. The alpha-helical conformation occurred only after the formation of an intramolecular disulfide bond, whereas the beta-sheet form was accessible either with or without the disulfide. Of the different alpha-helical forms studied, only those refolded in the pH range 5-8 were substantially soluble at physiological pH, exhibiting similar conformations and monomeric analytical sedimentation profiles throughout the above pH range. Furthermore, refolded alpha-rPrP showed NMR chemical shift dispersion typical of proteins with native conformations, although 2D NMR indicated large segments of conformational flexibility. It displayed a cooperative thermal denaturation transition; at elevated temperatures, it converted rapidly and irreversibly to the thermodynamically more stable beta-sheet form. Unfolding of alpha-rPrP by GdnHCl revealed a two-phase transition with a relatively stable folding intermediate at 2 M GdnHCl. The deltaG values were estimated to be 1.9 +/- 0.4 kcal/mol for the first phase and 6.5 +/- 1.2 kcal/mol for the second, consistent with a folding core surrounded by significant segments of flexible conformation. By NMR, alpha-rPrP(acid) isolated at pH 2 without refolding exhibited heterogeneous line widths, consistent with an acid-denatured molten globular state. We conclude that to the extent that rPrP constitutes a relevant folding domain of PrP(C), the various conformations exhibited by rPrP suggest that the PrP sequence may be intrinsically plastic in its conformations; indeed, portions of PrP(C) may possess a relatively open conformation which makes it susceptible to conversion into PrP(Sc) under appropriate conditions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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