Direct observation of multiple misfolding pathways in a single prion protein molecule.
ABSTRACT: Protein misfolding is a ubiquitous phenomenon associated with a wide range of diseases. Single-molecule approaches offer a powerful tool for deciphering the mechanisms of misfolding by measuring the conformational fluctuations of a protein with high sensitivity. We applied single-molecule force spectroscopy to observe directly the misfolding of the prion protein PrP, a protein notable for having an infectious misfolded state that is able to propagate by recruiting natively folded PrP. By measuring folding trajectories of single PrP molecules held under tension in a high-resolution optical trap, we found that the native folding pathway involves only two states, without evidence for partially folded intermediates that have been proposed to mediate misfolding. Instead, frequent but fleeting transitions were observed into off-pathway intermediates. Three different misfolding pathways were detected, all starting from the unfolded state. Remarkably, the misfolding rate was even higher than the rate for native folding. A mutant PrP with higher aggregation propensity showed increased occupancy of some of the misfolded states, suggesting these states may act as intermediates during aggregation. These measurements of individual misfolding trajectories demonstrate the power of single-molecule approaches for characterizing misfolding directly by mapping out nonnative folding pathways.
Project description:Recent single molecule experiments, using either atomic force microscopy (AFM) or Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) have shown that multidomain proteins containing tandem repeats may form stable misfolded structures. Topology-based simulation models have been used successfully to generate models for these structures with domain-swapped features, fully consistent with the available data. However, it is also known that some multidomain protein folds exhibit no evidence for misfolding, even when adjacent domains have identical sequences. Here we pose the question: what factors influence the propensity of a given fold to undergo domain-swapped misfolding? Using a coarse-grained simulation model, we can reproduce the known propensities of multidomain proteins to form domain-swapped misfolds, where data is available. Contrary to what might be naively expected based on the previously described misfolding mechanism, we find that the extent of misfolding is not determined by the relative folding rates or barrier heights for forming the domains present in the initial intermediates leading to folded or misfolded structures. Instead, it appears that the propensity is more closely related to the relative stability of the domains present in folded and misfolded intermediates. We show that these findings can be rationalized if the folded and misfolded domains are part of the same folding funnel, with commitment to one structure or the other occurring only at a relatively late stage of folding. Nonetheless, the results are still fully consistent with the kinetic models previously proposed to explain misfolding, with a specific interpretation of the observed rate coefficients. Finally, we investigate the relation between interdomain linker length and misfolding, and propose a simple alchemical model to predict the propensity for domain-swapped misfolding of multidomain proteins.
Project description:The timescale for the microscopic dynamics of proteins during conformational transitions is set by the intrachain diffusion coefficient, D. Despite the central role of protein misfolding and aggregation in many diseases, it has proven challenging to measure D for these processes because of their heterogeneity. We used single-molecule force spectroscopy to overcome these challenges and determine D for misfolding of the prion protein PrP. Observing directly the misfolding of individual dimers into minimal aggregates, we reconstructed the energy landscape governing nonnative structure formation. Remarkably, rather than displaying multiple pathways, as typically expected for aggregation, PrP dimers were funneled into a thermodynamically stable misfolded state along a single pathway containing several intermediates, one of which blocked native folding. Using Kramers' rate theory, D was found to be 1,000-fold slower for misfolding than for native folding, reflecting local roughening of the misfolding landscape, likely due to increased internal friction. The slow diffusion also led to much longer transit times for barrier crossing, allowing transition paths to be observed directly for the first time to our knowledge. These results open a new window onto the microscopic mechanisms governing protein misfolding.
Project description:Prion-like misfolding of superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) is associated with the disease ALS, but the mechanism of misfolding remains unclear, partly because misfolding is difficult to observe directly. Here we study the most misfolding-prone form of SOD1, reduced un-metallated monomers, using optical tweezers to measure unfolding and refolding of single molecules. We find that the folding is more complex than suspected, resolving numerous previously undetected intermediate states consistent with the formation of individual ?-strands in the native structure. We identify a stable core of the protein that unfolds last and refolds first, and directly observe several distinct misfolded states that branch off from the native folding pathways at specific points after the formation of the stable core. Partially folded intermediates thus play a crucial role mediating between native and non-native folding. These results suggest an explanation for SOD1's propensity for prion-like misfolding and point to possible targets for therapeutic intervention.
Project description:Neurodegenerative disorders are strongly linked to protein misfolding, and crucial to their explication is a detailed understanding of the underlying structural rearrangements and pathways that govern the formation of misfolded states. Here we use single-molecule optical tweezers to monitor misfolding reactions of the human neuronal calcium sensor-1, a multispecific EF-hand protein involved in neurotransmitter release and linked to severe neurological diseases. We directly observed two misfolding trajectories leading to distinct kinetically trapped misfolded conformations. Both trajectories originate from an on-pathway intermediate state and compete with native folding in a calcium-dependent manner. The relative probability of the different trajectories could be affected by modulating the relaxation rate of applied force, demonstrating an unprecedented real-time control over the free-energy landscape of a protein. Constant-force experiments in combination with hidden Markov analysis revealed the free-energy landscape of the misfolding transitions under both physiological and pathological calcium concentrations. Remarkably for a calcium sensor, we found that higher calcium concentrations increased the lifetimes of the misfolded conformations, slowing productive folding to the native state. We propose a rugged, multidimensional energy landscape for neuronal calcium sensor-1 and speculate on a direct link between protein misfolding and calcium dysregulation that could play a role in neurodegeneration.
Project description:Folding of small proteins often occurs in a two-state manner and is well understood both experimentally and theoretically. However, many proteins are much larger and often populate misfolded states, complicating their folding process significantly. Here we study the complete folding and assembly process of the 1,418 amino acid, dimeric chaperone Hsp90 using single-molecule optical tweezers. Although the isolated C-terminal domain shows two-state folding, we find that the isolated N-terminal as well as the middle domain populate ensembles of fast-forming, misfolded states. These intradomain misfolds slow down folding by an order of magnitude. Modeling folding as a competition between productive and misfolding pathways allows us to fully describe the folding kinetics. Beyond intradomain misfolding, folding of the full-length protein is further slowed by the formation of interdomain misfolds, suggesting that with growing chain lengths, such misfolds will dominate folding kinetics. Interestingly, we find that small stretching forces applied to the chain can accelerate folding by preventing the formation of cross-domain misfolding intermediates by leading the protein along productive pathways to the native state. The same effect is achieved by cotranslational folding at the ribosome in vivo.
Project description:Protein misfolding has been implicated in a large number of diseases termed protein- folding disorders (PFDs), which include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, familial amyloid polyneuropathy, Huntington's disease, and type II diabetes. In these diseases, large quantities of incorrectly folded proteins undergo aggregation, destroying brain cells and other tissues. The interplay between ligand binding and hydration is an important component of the formation of misfolded protein species. Hydration drives various biological processes, including protein folding, ligand binding, macromolecular assembly, enzyme kinetics, and signal transduction. The changes in hydration and packing, both when proteins fold correctly or when folding goes wrong, leading to PFDs, are examined through several biochemical, biophysical, and structural approaches. Although in many cases the binding of a ligand such as a nucleic acid helps to prevent misfolding and aggregation, there are several examples in which ligands induce misfolding and assembly into amyloids. This occurs simply because the formation of structured aggregates (such as protofibrillar and fibrillar amyloids) involves decreases in hydration, formation of a hydrogen-bond network in the secondary structure, and burying of nonpolar amino acid residues, processes that also occur in the normal folding landscape. In this Account, we describe the present knowledge of the folding and misfolding of different proteins, with a detailed emphasis on mammalian prion protein (PrP) and tumoral suppressor protein p53; we also explore how ligand binding and hydration together influence the fate of the proteins. Anfinsen's paradigm that the structure of a protein is determined by its amino acid sequence is to some extent contradicted by the observation that there are two isoforms of the prion protein with the same sequence: the cellular and the misfolded isoform. The cellular isoform of PrP has a disordered N-terminal domain and a highly flexible, not-well-packed C-terminal domain, which might account for its significant hydration. When PrP binds to biological molecules, such as glycosaminoglycans and nucleic acids, the disordered segments appear to fold and become less hydrated. Formation of the PrP-nucleic acid complex seems to accelerate the conversion of the cellular form of the protein into the disease-causing isoform. For p53, binding to some ligands, including nucleic acids, would prevent misfolding of the protein. Recently, several groups have begun to analyze the folding-misfolding of the individual domains of p53, but several questions remain unanswered. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding the productive and incorrect folding pathways of these proteins in normal physiological states and in human disease, such as prion disorders and cancer. These studies are shown to lay the groundwork for the development of new drugs.
Project description:Prion protein (PrP) misfolding and oligomerization are key pathogenic events in prion disease. Copper exposure has been linked to prion pathogenesis; however, its mechanistic basis is unknown. We resolve, with single-molecule precision, the molecular mechanism of Cu(2+)-induced misfolding of PrP under physiological conditions. We also demonstrate that misfolded PrPs serve as seeds for templated formation of aggregates, which mediate inflammation and degeneration of neuronal tissue. Using a single-molecule fluorescence assay, we demonstrate that Cu(2+) induces PrP monomers to misfold before oligomer assembly; the disordered amino-terminal region mediates this structural change. Single-molecule force spectroscopy measurements show that the misfolded monomers have a 900-fold higher binding affinity compared to the native isoform, which promotes their oligomerization. Real-time quaking-induced conversion demonstrates that misfolded PrPs serve as seeds that template amyloid formation. Finally, organotypic slice cultures show that misfolded PrPs mediate inflammation and degeneration of neuronal tissue. Our study establishes a direct link, at the molecular level, between copper exposure and PrP neurotoxicity.
Project description:Prion diseases comprise a group of fatal neurodegenerative disorders characterized by the autocatalytic conversion of the cellular prion protein PrP(C) into the infectious misfolded isoform PrP(Sc). Increasing evidence supports a specific role of oxidative stress in the onset of pathogenesis. Although the associated molecular mechanisms remain to be elucidated in detail, several studies currently suggest that methionine oxidation already detected in misfolded PrP(Sc) destabilizes the native PrP fold as an early event in the conversion pathway. To obtain more insights about the specific impact of surface-exposed methionine residues on the oxidative-induced conversion of human PrP we designed, produced, and comparatively investigated two new pseudosulfoxidation mutants of human PrP 121-231 that comprises the well-folded C-terminal domain. Applying circular dichroism spectroscopy and dynamic light scattering techniques we showed that pseudosulfoxidation of all surface exposed Met residues formed a monomeric molten globule-like species with striking similarities to misfolding intermediates recently reported by other groups. However, individual pseudosulfoxidation at the polymorphic M129 site did not significantly contribute to the structural destabilization. Further metal-induced oxidation of the partly unfolded pseudosulfoxidation mutant resulted in the formation of an oligomeric state that shares a comparable size and stability with PrP oligomers detected after the application of different other triggers for structural conversion, indicating a generic misfolding pathway of PrP. The obtained results highlight the specific importance of methionine oxidation at surface exposed residues for PrP misfolding, strongly supporting the hypothesis that increased oxidative stress could be one causative event for sporadic prion diseases and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Project description:Prion diseases are associated with the structural conversion of prion protein (PrP) to a ?-sheet-rich aggregate, PrPSc. Previous studies have indicated that a reduction of the disulfide bond linking C179 and C214 of PrP yields an amyloidlike ?-rich aggregate in vitro. To gain mechanistic insights into the reduction-induced aggregation, here I characterized how disulfide bond reduction modulates the protein folding/misfolding landscape of PrP, by examining 1) the equilibrium stabilities of the native (N) and aggregated states relative to the unfolded (U) state, 2) the transition barrier separating the U and aggregated states, and 3) the final structure of amyloidlike misfolded aggregates. Kinetic and thermodynamic experiments revealed that disulfide bond reduction decreases the equilibrium stabilities of both the N and aggregated states by ?3 kcal/mol, without changing either the amyloidlike aggregate structure, at least at the secondary structural level, or the transition barrier of aggregation. Therefore, disulfide bond reduction modulates the protein folding/misfolding landscape by entropically stabilizing disordered states, including the U and transition state of aggregation. This also indicates that the equilibrium stability of the N state, but not the transition barrier of aggregation, is the dominant factor determining the reduction-induced aggregation of PrP.
Project description:Chemical kinetic modeling has previously been used to predict that fast-translating codons can enhance cotranslational protein folding by helping to avoid misfolded intermediates. Consistent with this prediction, protein aggregation in yeast and worms was observed to increase when translation was globally slowed down, possibly due to increased cotranslational misfolding. Observation of similar behavior in molecular simulations would confirm predictions from the simpler chemical kinetic model and provide a molecular perspective on cotranslational folding, misfolding, and the impact of translation speed on these processes. All-atom simulations cannot reach the timescales relevant to protein synthesis, and most conventional structure-based coarse-grained models do not allow for nonnative structure formation. Here, we introduce a protocol to incorporate misfolding using the functional forms of publicly available force fields. With this model we create two artificial proteins that are capable of undergoing structural transitions between a native and a misfolded conformation and simulate their synthesis by the ribosome. Consistent with the chemical kinetic predictions, we find that rapid synthesis of misfolding-prone nascent-chain segments increases the fraction of folded proteins by kinetically partitioning more molecules through on-pathway intermediates, decreasing the likelihood of sampling misfolded conformations. Novel to this study, to our knowledge, we observe that differences in protein dynamics, arising from different translation-elongation schedules, can persist long after the nascent protein has been released from the ribosome, and that a sufficient level of energetic frustration is needed for fast-translating codons to be beneficial for folding. These results provide further evidence that fast-translating codons can be as biologically important as pause sites in coordinating cotranslational folding.