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Fold Des. 1995;1(1):13-9.

Scrapie prions: a three-dimensional model of an infectious fragment.

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Ziwei Huang, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Backgound. A conformational change seems to represent the major difference between the scrapie prion protein (PrPSc) and its normal cellular isoform (PrPC). We recently proposed a set of four helix bundle models for the three-dimensional structure of PrPC that are consistent with a variety of spectroscopic and genetic data. Results. We report a plausible model for the three-dimensional structure of a biologically important fragment of PrPSc. The model of residues 108-218 was constructed by an approach that combines computational techniques and experimental data. The proposed structures of this fragment of PrPSc display a four-stranded beta-sheet covered on one face by two alpha-helices. Residues implicated in the prion species barrier are found to cluster on the solvent-accessible surface of the beta-sheet of one of the models. This interface could provide a structural template that would assist the conversion of PrPC to PrPSc and hence direct prion propagation. Conclusion. Molecular models of the PrP isoforms should prove very useful in developing structural hypotheses about the process by which PrPC is transformed into PrPSc, the mechanisms by which PrP gene mutations give rise to the inherited human prion diseases, and the species barrier that seems to protect humans from animal prions. It seems likely that PrPC represents a kinetically trapped intermediate in PrP folding.


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