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Concept: Protein folding


Nature has shaped the make up of proteins since their appearance, [Formula: see text]3.8 billion years ago. However, the fundamental drivers of structural change responsible for the extraordinary diversity of proteins have yet to be elucidated. Here we explore if protein evolution affects folding speed. We estimated folding times for the present-day catalog of protein domains directly from their size-modified contact order. These values were mapped onto an evolutionary timeline of domain appearance derived from a phylogenomic analysis of protein domains in 989 fully-sequenced genomes. Our results show a clear overall increase of folding speed during evolution, with known ultra-fast downhill folders appearing rather late in the timeline. Remarkably, folding optimization depends on secondary structure. While alpha-folds showed a tendency to fold faster throughout evolution, beta-folds exhibited a trend of folding time increase during the last [Formula: see text]1.5 billion years that began during the “big bang” of domain combinations. As a consequence, these domain structures are on average slow folders today. Our results suggest that fast and efficient folding of domains shaped the universe of protein structure. This finding supports the hypothesis that optimization of the kinetic and thermodynamic accessibility of the native fold reduces protein aggregation propensities that hamper cellular functions.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Protein structure, Gene, Evolution, Primary structure, Protein folding, Protein domain


How small heat shock proteins (sHsps) might empower proteostasis networks to control beneficial prions or disassemble pathological amyloid is unknown. Here, we establish that yeast sHsps, Hsp26 and Hsp42, inhibit prionogenesis by the [PSI+] prion protein, Sup35, via distinct and synergistic mechanisms. Hsp42 prevents conformational rearrangements within molten oligomers that enable de novo prionogenesis and collaborates with Hsp70 to attenuate self-templating. By contrast, Hsp26 inhibits self-templating upon binding assembled prions. sHsp binding destabilizes Sup35 prions and promotes their disaggregation by Hsp104, Hsp70, and Hsp40. In yeast, Hsp26 or Hsp42 overexpression prevents [PSI+] induction, cures [PSI+], and potentiates [PSI+]-curing by Hsp104 overexpression. In vitro, sHsps enhance Hsp104-catalyzed disaggregation of pathological amyloid forms of α-synuclein and polyglutamine. Unexpectedly, in the absence of Hsp104, sHsps promote an unprecedented, gradual depolymerization of Sup35 prions by Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. This unanticipated amyloid-depolymerase activity is conserved from yeast to humans, which lack Hsp104 orthologues. A human sHsp, HspB5, stimulates depolymerization of α-synuclein amyloid by human Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. Thus, we elucidate a heretofore-unrecognized human amyloid-depolymerase system that could have applications in various neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Cell, Protein folding, Prion, Amyloid, Heat shock protein, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy


Single-molecule techniques facilitate analysis of mechanical transitions within nucleic acids and proteins. Here, we describe an integrated fluorescence and magnetic tweezers instrument that permits detection of nanometer-scale DNA structural rearrangements together with the application of a wide range of stretching forces to individual DNA molecules. We have analyzed the force-dependent equilibrium and rate constants for telomere DNA G-quadruplex (GQ) folding and unfolding, and have determined the location of the transition state barrier along the well-defined DNA-stretching reaction coordinate. Our results reveal the mechanical unfolding pathway of the telomere DNA GQ is characterized by a short distance (<1 nm) to the transition state for the unfolding reaction. This mechanical unfolding response reflects a critical contribution of long-range interactions to the global stability of the GQ fold, and suggests that telomere-associated proteins need only disrupt a few base pairs to destabilize GQ structures. Comparison of the GQ unfolded state with a single-stranded polyT DNA revealed the unfolded GQ exhibits a compacted non-native conformation reminiscent of the protein molten globule. We expect the capacity to interrogate macromolecular structural transitions with high spatial resolution under conditions of low forces will have broad application in analyses of nucleic acid and protein folding.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Protein structure, Base pair, Protein folding, Hydrogen bond, Telomere, Nucleotide


[Background] Protein domain ranking is a fundamental task in structural biology. Most protein domain ranking methods rely on the pairwise comparison of protein domains while neglecting the global manifold structure of the protein domain database. Recently, graph regularized ranking that exploits the global structure of the graph defined by the pairwise similarities has been proposed. However, the existing graph regularized ranking methods are very sensitive to the choice of the graph model and parameters, and this remains a difficult problem for most of the protein domain ranking methods. [Results] To tackle this problem, we have developed the Multiple Graph regularized Ranking algorithm, MultiG-Rank. Instead of using a single graph to regularize the ranking scores, MultiG-Rank approximates the intrinsic manifold of protein domain distribution by combining multiple initial graphs for the regularization. Graph weights are learned with ranking scores jointly and automatically, by alternately minimizing an objective function in an iterative algorithm. Experimental results on a subset of the ASTRAL SCOP protein domain database demonstrate that MultiG-Rank achieves a better ranking performance than single graph regularized ranking methods and pairwise similarity based ranking methods. [Conclusion] The problem of graph model and parameter selection in graph regularized protein domain ranking can be solved effectively by combining multiple graphs. This aspect of generalization introduces a new frontier in applying multiple graphs to solving protein domain ranking applications.

Concepts: Protein structure, Enzyme, Mathematics, Protein folding, Model theory, Graph theory, Problem solving, Titin


Explicit solvent molecular dynamics simulations have been used to complement preceding experimental and computational studies of folding of guanine quadruplexes (G-DNA). We initiate early stages of unfolding of several G-DNAs by simulating them under no-salt conditions and then try to fold them back using standard excess salt simulations. There is a significant difference between G-DNAs with all-anti parallel stranded stems and those with stems containing mixtures of syn and anti guanosines. The most natural rearrangement for all-anti stems is a vertical mutual slippage of the strands. This leads to stems with reduced numbers of tetrads during unfolding and a reduction of strand slippage during refolding. The presence of syn nucleotides prevents mutual strand slippage; therefore, the antiparallel and hybrid quadruplexes initiate unfolding via separation of the individual strands. The simulations confirm the capability of G-DNA molecules to adopt numerous stable locally and globally misfolded structures. The key point for a proper individual folding attempt appears to be correct prior distribution of syn and anti nucleotides in all four G-strands. The results suggest that at the level of individual molecules, G-DNA folding is an extremely multi-pathway process that is slowed by numerous misfolding arrangements stabilized on highly variable timescales.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular dynamics, Molecule, Protein folding, Computational chemistry, G-quadruplex, Monte Carlo method, Computer simulation


The Rosetta Molecular Modeling suite is a command-line-only collection of applications that enable high-resolution modeling and design of proteins and other molecules. Although extremely useful, Rosetta can be difficult to learn for scientists with little computational or programming experience. To that end, we have created a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for Rosetta, called the PyRosetta Toolkit, for creating and running protocols in Rosetta for common molecular modeling and protein design tasks and for analyzing the results of Rosetta calculations. The program is highly extensible so that developers can add new protocols and analysis tools to the PyRosetta Toolkit GUI.

Concepts: Protein, Oxygen, Molecular biology, Molecule, Protein folding, Computational chemistry, User interface, Graphical user interface


Nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyl transferase 2 (NMNAT2) is neuroprotective in numerous preclinical models of neurodegeneration. Here, we show that brain nmnat2 mRNA levels correlate positively with global cognitive function and negatively with AD pathology. In AD brains, NMNAT2 mRNA and protein levels are reduced. NMNAT2 shifts its solubility and colocalizes with aggregated Tau in AD brains, similar to chaperones, which aid in the clearance or refolding of misfolded proteins. Investigating the mechanism of this observation, we discover a novel chaperone function of NMNAT2, independent from its enzymatic activity. NMNAT2 complexes with heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) to refold aggregated protein substrates. NMNAT2’s refoldase activity requires a unique C-terminal ATP site, activated in the presence of HSP90. Furthermore, deleting NMNAT2 function increases the vulnerability of cortical neurons to proteotoxic stress and excitotoxicity. Interestingly, NMNAT2 acts as a chaperone to reduce proteotoxic stress, while its enzymatic activity protects neurons from excitotoxicity. Taken together, our data indicate that NMNAT2 exerts its chaperone or enzymatic function in a context-dependent manner to maintain neuronal health.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Brain, Enzyme, Protein folding, Chaperone, Heat shock protein, Hsp90


During prion disease, an increase in misfolded prion protein (PrP) generated by prion replication leads to sustained overactivation of the branch of the unfolded protein response (UPR) that controls the initiation of protein synthesis. This results in persistent repression of translation, resulting in the loss of critical proteins that leads to synaptic failure and neuronal death. We have previously reported that localized genetic manipulation of this pathway rescues shutdown of translation and prevents neurodegeneration in a mouse model of prion disease, suggesting that pharmacological inhibition of this pathway might be of therapeutic benefit. We show that oral treatment with a specific inhibitor of the kinase PERK (protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase), a key mediator of this UPR pathway, prevented UPR-mediated translational repression and abrogated development of clinical prion disease in mice, with neuroprotection observed throughout the mouse brain. This was the case for animals treated both at the preclinical stage and also later in disease when behavioral signs had emerged. Critically, the compound acts downstream and independently of the primary pathogenic process of prion replication and is effective despite continuing accumulation of misfolded PrP. These data suggest that PERK, and other members of this pathway, may be new therapeutic targets for developing drugs against prion disease or other neurodegenerative diseases where the UPR has been implicated.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Gene, Infectious disease, Endoplasmic reticulum, Protein folding, Prion, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy


The structure of the infectious prion protein (PrPSc), which is responsible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has escaped all attempts at elucidation due to its insolubility and propensity to aggregate. PrPSc replicates by converting the non-infectious, cellular prion protein (PrPC) into the misfolded, infectious conformer through an unknown mechanism. PrPSc and its N-terminally truncated variant, PrP 27-30, aggregate into amorphous aggregates, 2D crystals, and amyloid fibrils. The structure of these infectious conformers is essential to understanding prion replication and the development of structure-based therapeutic interventions. Here we used the repetitive organization inherent to GPI-anchorless PrP 27-30 amyloid fibrils to analyze their structure via electron cryomicroscopy. Fourier-transform analyses of averaged fibril segments indicate a repeating unit of 19.1 Å. 3D reconstructions of these fibrils revealed two distinct protofilaments, and, together with a molecular volume of 18,990 Å3, predicted the height of each PrP 27-30 molecule as ~17.7 Å. Together, the data indicate a four-rung β-solenoid structure as a key feature for the architecture of infectious mammalian prions. Furthermore, they allow to formulate a molecular mechanism for the replication of prions. Knowledge of the prion structure will provide important insights into the self-propagation mechanisms of protein misfolding.

Concepts: Protein folding, Prion, Amyloid, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Prions, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies


Cataracts reduce vision in 50% of individuals over 70 years of age and are a common form of blindness worldwide. Cataracts are caused when damage to the major lens crystallin proteins causes their misfolding and aggregation into insoluble amyloids. Using a thermal stability assay, we identified a class of molecules that bind α-crystallins (cryAA and cryAB) and reversed their aggregation in vitro. The most promising compound improved lens transparency in the R49C cryAA and R120G cryAB mouse models of hereditary cataract. It also partially restored protein solubility in the lenses of aged mice in vivo and in human lenses ex vivo. These findings suggest an approach to treating cataracts by stabilizing α-crystallins.

Concepts: Protein folding, In vivo, Chemical substance, In vitro, Blindness, Cataract, Ex vivo