Polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat disorders are caused by the expansion of CAG tracts in certain genes, resulting in transcription of proteins with abnormally long polyQ inserts. When these inserts expand beyond 35-45 glutamines, affected proteins form toxic aggregates, leading to neuron death. Chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) with an inserted glutamine repeat has previously been used to model polyQ-mediated aggregation in vitro. However, polyQ insertion lengths in these studies have been kept below the pathogenic threshold. We perform molecular dynamics simulations to study monomer folding dynamics and dimer formation in CI2-polyQ chimeras with insertion lengths of up to 80 glutamines. Our model recapitulates the experimental results of previous studies of chimeric CI2 proteins, showing high folding cooperativity of monomers as well as protein association via domain swapping. Surprisingly, for chimeras with insertion lengths above the pathogenic threshold, monomer folding cooperativity decreases and the dominant mode for dimer formation becomes interglutamine hydrogen bonding. These results support a mechanism for pathogenic polyQ-mediated aggregation, in which expanded polyQ tracts destabilize affected proteins and promote the formation of partially unfolded intermediates. These unfolded intermediates form aggregates through associations by interglutamine interactions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology