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Concept: Oligomer


Extracellular plaques of amyloid-β and intraneuronal neurofibrillary tangles made from tau are the histopathological signatures of Alzheimer’s disease. Plaques comprise amyloid-β fibrils that assemble from monomeric and oligomeric intermediates, and are prognostic indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the importance of plaques to Alzheimer’s disease, oligomers are considered to be the principal toxic forms of amyloid-β. Interestingly, many adverse responses to amyloid-β, such as cytotoxicity, microtubule loss, impaired memory and learning, and neuritic degeneration, are greatly amplified by tau expression. Amino-terminally truncated, pyroglutamylated (pE) forms of amyloid-β are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, are more toxic than amyloid-β, residues 1-42 (Aβ(1-42)) and Aβ(1-40), and have been proposed as initiators of Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. Here we report a mechanism by which pE-Aβ may trigger Alzheimer’s disease. Aβ(3(pE)-42) co-oligomerizes with excess Aβ(1-42) to form metastable low-n oligomers (LNOs) that are structurally distinct and far more cytotoxic to cultured neurons than comparable LNOs made from Aβ(1-42) alone. Tau is required for cytotoxicity, and LNOs comprising 5% Aβ(3(pE)-42) plus 95% Aβ(1-42) (5% pE-Aβ) seed new cytotoxic LNOs through multiple serial dilutions into Aβ(1-42) monomers in the absence of additional Aβ(3(pE)-42). LNOs isolated from human Alzheimer’s disease brain contained Aβ(3(pE)-42), and enhanced Aβ(3(pE)-42) formation in mice triggered neuron loss and gliosis at 3 months, but not in a tau-null background. We conclude that Aβ(3(pE)-42) confers tau-dependent neuronal death and causes template-induced misfolding of Aβ(1-42) into structurally distinct LNOs that propagate by a prion-like mechanism. Our results raise the possibility that Aβ(3(pE)-42) acts similarly at a primary step in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Neuron, Polymer chemistry, Monomer, Acetylcholine, Toxicity, Oligomer, Neurofibrillary tangle


The identities of toxic aggregate species in Huntington’s disease pathogenesis remain ambiguous. While polyQ-expanded huntingtin (Htt) is known to accumulate in compact inclusion bodies inside neurons, this is widely thought to be a protective coping response that sequesters misfolded conformations or aggregated states of the mutated protein. To define the spatial distributions of fluorescently-labeled Htt-exon1 species in the cell model PC12m, we employed highly sensitive single-molecule super-resolution fluorescence imaging. In addition to inclusion bodies and the diffuse pool of monomers and oligomers, fibrillar aggregates ~100 nm in diameter and up to ~1-2 µm in length were observed for pathogenic polyQ tracts (46 and 97 repeats) after targeted photo-bleaching of the inclusion bodies. These short structures bear a striking resemblance to fibers described in vitro. Definition of the diverse Htt structures in cells will provide an avenue to link the impact of therapeutic agents to aggregate populations and morphologies.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Aggregate, Oligomer, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin, Trinucleotide repeat disorder


Conformational changes of Aβ peptide result in its transformation from native monomeric state to the toxic soluble dimers, oligomers and insoluble aggregates that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Interactions of zinc ions with Aβ are mediated by the N-terminal Aβ1-16 domain and appear to play a key role in AD progression. There is a range of results indicating that these interactions trigger the Aβ plaque formation. We have determined structure and functional characteristics of the metal binding domains derived from several Aβ variants and found that their zinc-induced oligomerization is governed by conformational changes in the minimal zinc binding site 6HDSGYEVHH14. The residue H6 and segment 11EVHH14, which are part of this site are crucial for formation of the two zinc-mediated interaction interfaces in Aβ. These structural determinants can be considered as promising targets for rational design of the AD-modifying drugs aimed at blocking pathological Aβ aggregation.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Proteins, Protein, Peptide, Aluminium, Monomer, Silver, Oligomer


How learned experiences persist as memory for a long time is an important question. In Drosophila the persistence of memory is dependent upon amyloid-like oligomers of the Orb2 protein. However, it is not clear how the conversion of Orb2 to the amyloid-like oligomeric state is regulated. The Orb2 has two protein isoforms, and the rare Orb2A isoform is critical for oligomerization of the ubiquitous Orb2B isoform. Here, we report the discovery of a protein network comprised of protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), Transducer of Erb-B2 (Tob), and Lim Kinase (LimK) that controls the abundance of Orb2A. PP2A maintains Orb2A in an unphosphorylated and unstable state, whereas Tob-LimK phosphorylates and stabilizes Orb2A. Mutation of LimK abolishes activity-dependent Orb2 oligomerization in the adult brain. Moreover, Tob-Orb2 association is modulated by neuronal activity and Tob activity in the mushroom body is required for stable memory formation. These observations suggest that the interplay between PP2A and Tob-LimK activity may dynamically regulate Orb2 amyloid-like oligomer formation and the stabilization of memories.

Concepts: DNA, Proteins, Protein, Molecular biology, Quaternary structure, Oligomer


Designing protein molecules that will assemble into various kinds of ordered materials represents an important challenge in nanotechnology. We report the crystal structure of a 12-subunit protein cage that self-assembles by design to form a tetrahedral structure roughly 16 nanometers in diameter. The strategy of fusing together oligomeric protein domains can be generalized to produce other kinds of cages or extended materials.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Quaternary structure, Materials science, Design, Oligomer, Graphic design, Design management


Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria are insect pathogens that produce different Cry and Cyt toxins to kill their hosts. Here we review the group of three-domain Cry (3d-Cry) toxins. Expression of these 3d-Cry toxins in transgenic crops has contributed to efficient control of insect pests and a reduction in the use of chemical insecticides. The mode of action of 3d-Cry toxins involves sequential interactions with several insect midgut proteins that facilitate the formation of an oligomeric structure and induce its insertion into the membrane, forming a pore that kills midgut cells. We review recent progress in our understanding of the mechanism of action of these Cry toxins and focus our attention on the different mechanisms of resistance that insects have evolved to counter their action, such as mutations in cadherin, APN and ABC transporter genes. Activity of Cry1AMod toxins, which are able to form toxin oligomers in the absence of receptors, against different resistant populations, including those affected in the ABC transporter and the role of dominant negative mutants as antitoxins, supports the hypothesis that toxin oligomerization is a limiting step in the Cry insecticidal activity. Knowledge of the action of 3d-Cry toxin and the resistance mechanisms to these toxins will set the basis for a rational design of novel toxins to overcome insect resistance, extending the useful lifespan of Cry toxins in insect control programs.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Bacteria, Agriculture, Insect, Antibiotic resistance, Oligomer, Bacillus thuringiensis


Tetanus toxoid protein has been characterized with regard oligomeric state and hydrodynamic (low-resolution) shape, important parameters with regard its use in glycoconjugate vaccines. From sedimentation velocity and sedimentation equilibrium analysis in the analytical ultracentrifuge tetanus toxoid protein is shown to be mostly monomeric in solution (~86%) with approximately 14% dimer. The relative proportions do not appear to change significantly with concentration, suggesting the two components are not in reversible equilibrium. Hydrodynamic solution conformation studies based on high precision viscometry, combined with sedimentation data show the protein to be slightly extended conformation in solution with an aspect ratio ~3. The asymmetric structure presents a greater surface area for conjugation with polysaccharide than a more globular structure, underpinning its popular choice as a conjugation protein for glycoconjugate vaccines.

Concepts: Protein, Tetanus, Tetanospasmin, Clostridium tetani, Monomer, Globular protein, Oligomer, Aspect ratio


Rifampicin monooxygenase (RIFMO) catalyzes the N-hydroxylation of the natural product antibiotic rifampicin (RIF) to 2'-N-hydroxy-4-oxo-rifampicin, a metabolite with much lower antimicrobial activity. RIFMO shares moderate sequence similarity with well-characterized flavoprotein monooxygenases, but the protein has not been isolated and characterized at the molecular level. Herein, we report crystal structures of RIFMO from Nocardia farcinica, the determination of the oligomeric state in solution with small-angle X-ray scattering, and the spectrophotometric characterization of substrate binding. The structure identifies RIFMO as a class A flavoprotein monooxygenase and is similar in fold and quaternary structure to MtmOIV and OxyS, which are enzymes in the mithramycin and oxytetracycline biosynthetic pathways, respectively. RIFMO is distinguished from other class A flavoprotein monooxygenases by its unique middle domain, which is involved in binding RIF. Small-angle X-ray scattering analysis shows that RIFMO dimerizes via the FAD-binding domain to form a bell-shaped homodimer in solution with a maximal dimension of 110 Å. RIF binding was monitored using absorbance at 525 nm to determine a dissociation constant of 13 μM. Steady-state oxygen consumption assays show that NADPH efficiently reduces the FAD only when RIF is present, implying that RIF binds before NADPH in the catalytic scheme. The 1.8 Å resolution structure of RIFMO complexed with RIF represents the pre-catalytic conformation that occurs prior to formation of the ternary E-RIF-NADPH complex. The RIF naphthoquinone blocks access to the FAD N5 atom, implying that large conformational changes are required for NADPH to reduce the FAD. A model for these conformational changes is proposed.

Concepts: Protein, Bacteria, Metabolism, Enzyme, Tertiary structure, Scattering, Quaternary structure, Oligomer


Perforin plays a key role in the immune system via pore formation at the target cell membrane in the elimination of virus-infected and transformed cells. A vast number of observed mutations in perforin impair this mechanism resulting in a rare but fatal disease; familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis type 2, FHL2. Here we report a comprehensive in silico structural analysis of a collection of 76 missense perforin mutations based on a proposed pore model. In our model, perforin monomers oligomerize having cyclic symmetry in consistent with previously found experimental constraints yet having flexibility in the size of the pore and the number of monomers involved. Clusters of the mutations on the model map to three distinct functional regions of the perforin. Calculated stability (free energy) changes show that the mutations mainly destabilize the protein structure, interestingly however, A91V polymorphism, leads to a more stable one. Structural characteristics of mutations help explain the severe functional consequences on perforin deficient patients. Our study provides a structural approach to the mutation effects on the perforin oligomerization and impaired cytotoxic function in FHL2 patients.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Protein, Cell, Mutation, Cell membrane, Oligomer, Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis


Alpha-synuclein, a protein that forms ordered aggregates in the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease, is intrinsically disordered in the monomeric state. Several studies, however, suggest that it can form soluble multimers in vivo that have significant secondary structure content. It has been shown that alpha-synuclein can form beta-strand rich oligomers that are neurotoxic, and recent observations argue for the existence of soluble helical tetrameric species in cellulo that do not aggregate. To gain further insight into the different types of multimeric states that this protein can adopt, we generated an ensemble for an alpha-synuclein construct that contains a 10 residue N-terminal extension, which forms multimers when isolated from E. coli. Data from NMR chemical shifts and residual dipolar couplings were used to guide the construction of the ensemble. Our data suggest that the dominant state of this ensemble is a disordered monomer, complemented by a small fraction of helical trimers and tetramers. Interestingly, the ensemble also contains trimeric and tetrameric oligomers that are rich in beta-strand content. These data help to reconcile seemingly contradictory observations that indicate the presence of a helical tetramer in cellulo on the one hand, and a disordered monomer on the other. Furthermore, our findings are consistent with the notion that the helical tetrameric state provides a mechanism for storing alpha-synuclein when the protein concentration is high; thereby preventing non-membrane bound monomers from aggregating.

Concepts: Protein, Polymer, Polymer chemistry, Parkinson's disease, Monomer, Oligomer, -mer, Tetramer