Indexed on: 11 Jan '11Published on: 11 Jan '11Published in: Biochemistry
Aggregation reactions of proteins leading to amyloid fibril formation are often characterized by early transient accumulation of a heterogeneous population of soluble oligomers differing in size and structure. Delineating the kinetic roles of the different oligomeric forms in fibril formation has been a major challenge. The aggregation of the mouse prion protein to form worm-like amyloid fibrils at low pH is known to proceed via a β-rich oligomer ensemble, which is shown here to be comprised of two subpopulations of oligomers that differ in size and internal structure. The relative populations of the two oligomers can be tuned by varying the concentration of NaCl present. By demonstrating that the apparent rate constant for the formation of fibrils is dependent linearly on the concentration of the larger oligomer and is independent of the concentration of the smaller oligomer, we show that the larger oligomer is a productive intermediate that accumulates on the direct pathway of aggregation from monomer to worm-like fibrils. The smaller oligomer is shown to be populated off the pathway of the larger oligomer and, hence, is not directly productive for fibril formation. The relative populations of the two oligomers can also be tuned by single-amino acid residue changes in the sequence of the protein. The different protein variants yield worm-like fibrils of different lengths, and the apparent rate of formation of the fibrils by the mutant variants is also shown to be dependent on the concentration of the larger but not of the smaller oligomer formed.