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FEBS J. 2005 May;272(9):2176-88.

Protein dissection enhances the amyloidogenic properties of alpha-lactalbumin.

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1
CRIBI Biotechnology Centre, University of Padua, Italy.

Abstract

Alpha-lactalbumin (LA) in its molten globule (MG) state at low pH forms amyloid fibrils. Here, we have studied the aggregation propensities of LA derivatives characterized by a single peptide bond fission (1-40/41-123, named Th1-LA) or a deletion of a chain segment of 12 amino acid residues located at the level of the beta-subdomain of the native protein (1-40/53-123, named desbeta-LA). We have also compared the early stages of the aggregation process of these LA derivatives with those of intact LA. Th1-LA and desbeta-LA aggregate at pH 2.0 much faster than the intact protein and form long and well-ordered fibrils. Furthermore, in contrast to intact LA, the LA derivatives form regular fibrils also at neutral pH, even if at much reduced rate. In acidic solution, Th1-LA and desbeta-LA adopt a MG state which appears to be similar to that of intact LA, as given by spectroscopic criteria. At neutral pH, both Th1-LA and desbeta-LA are able to bind the hydrophobic dye 1-anilinonaphtalene-8-sulfonate, thus indicating the presence of exposed hydrophobic patches. It is concluded that nicked Th1-LA and gapped desbeta-LA are more relaxed and expanded than intact LA and, consequently, that they are more suitable protein species to allow the large conformational transitions required for the polypeptide chain to form the amyloid cross-beta structure. As a matter of fact, the MG of LA attains an even more flexible conformational state during the early phases of the aggregation process at acidic pH, as deduced from the enhancement of its susceptibility to proteolysis by pepsin. Our data indicate that deletion of the beta-subdomain in LA does not alter the ability of the protein to assemble into well-ordered fibrils, implying that this chain region is not essential for the amyloid formation. It is proposed that a proteolytic hydrolysis of a protein molecule at the cellular level can trigger an easier formation of amyloid precipitates and therefore that limited proteolysis of proteins can be a causative mechanism of protein aggregation and fibrillogenesis. Indeed, a vast majority of protein deposits in amyloid diseases are given by protein fragments derived from larger protein precursors.

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