Inherited mutations of transthyretin (TTR) destabilize its structure, leading to aggregation and familial amyloid disease. Although numerous crystal structures of wild-type (WT) and mutant TTRs have been determined, they have failed to yield a comprehensive structural explanation for destabilization by pathogenic mutations. To identify structural and dynamic variations that are not readily observed in the crystal structures, we used NMR to study WT TTR and three kinetically and/or thermodynamically destabilized pathogenic variants (V30M, L55P, and V122I). Sequence-corrected chemical shifts reveal important structural differences between WT and mutant TTR. The L55P mutation linked to aggressive early onset cardiomyopathy and polyneuropathy induces substantial structural perturbations in both the DAGH and CBEF β-sheets, whereas the V30M polyneuropathy-linked substitution perturbs primarily the CBEF sheet. In both variants, the structural perturbations propagate across the entire width of the β-sheets from the site of mutation. Structural changes caused by the V122I cardiomyopathy-associated mutation are restricted to the immediate vicinity of the mutation site, directly perturbing the subunit interfaces. NMR relaxation dispersion measurements show that WT TTR and the three pathogenic variants undergo millisecond time scale conformational fluctuations to populate a common excited state with an altered structure in the subunit interfaces. The excited state is most highly populated in L55P. The combined application of chemical shift analysis and relaxation dispersion to these pathogenic variants reveals differences in ground state structure and in the population of a transient excited state that potentially facilitates tetramer dissociation, providing new insights into the molecular mechanism by which mutations promote TTR amyloidosis.
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