Direct observation of protein folding, aggregation, and a prion-like conformational conversion

Feng Ding, Joshua J. LaRocque, Nikolay V. Dokholyan

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70 Scopus citations


Protein conformational transition from α-helices to β-sheets precedes aggregation of proteins implicated in many diseases, including Alzheimer and prion diseases. Direct characterization of such transitions is often hindered by the complicated nature of the interaction network among amino acids. A recently engineered small protein-like peptide with a simple amino acid composition features a temperature-driven α-helix to β-sheet conformational change. Here we studied the conformational transition of this peptide by molecular dynamics simulations. We observed a critical temperature, below which the peptide folds into an α-helical coiled-coil state and above which the peptide misfolds into β-rich structures with a high propensity to aggregate. The structures adopted by this peptide during low temperature simulations have a backbone root mean square deviation less than 2 Å from the crystal structure. At high temperatures, this peptide adopts an amyloid-like structure, which is mainly composed of coiled anti-parallel β-sheets with the cross-β-signature of amyloid fibrils. Most strikingly, we observed conformational conversions in which an α-helix is converted into a β-strand by proximate stable β-sheets with exposed hydrophobic surfaces and unsaturated hydrogen bonds. Our study suggested a possible generic molecular mechanism of the template-mediated aggregation process, originally proposed by Prusiner (Prusiner, S. B. (1998) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 95, 13363-13383) to account for prion infectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40235-40240
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number48
StatePublished - Dec 2 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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