Indexed on: 09 Aug '08Published on: 09 Aug '08Published in: Journal of Molecular Biology
The full-length mouse prion protein, moPrP, is shown to form worm-like amyloid fibrils at pH 2 in the presence of 0.15 M NaCl, in a slow process that is accelerated at higher temperatures. Upon reduction in pH to 2, native moPrP transforms into a mixture of soluble beta-rich oligomers and alpha-rich monomers, which exist in a slow, concentration-dependent equilibrium with each other. It is shown that only the beta-rich oligomers and not the alpha-rich monomers, can form worm-like amyloid fibrils. The mechanism of formation of the worm-like amyloid fibrils from the beta-rich oligomers has been studied with four different physical probes over a range of temperatures and over a range of protein concentrations. The observed rate of fibrillation is the same, whether measured by changes in ellipticity at 216 nm, in thioflavin fluorescence upon binding, or in the mean hydrodynamic radius. The observed rate is significantly slower when monitored by total scattering intensity, suggesting that lateral association of the worm-like fibrils occurs after they form. The activation energy for worm-like fibril formation was determined to be 129 kJ/mol. The observed rate of fibrillation increases with an increase in protein concentration, but saturates at protein concentrations above 50 microM. The dependence of the observed rate of fibrillation on protein concentration suggests that aggregate growth is rate-limiting at low protein concentration and that conformational change, which is independent of protein concentration, becomes rate-limiting at higher protein concentrations. Hence, fibril formation by moPrP occurs in at least two separate steps. Longer but fewer worm-like fibrils are seen to form at low protein concentration, and shorter but more worm-like fibrils are seen to form at higher protein concentrations. This observation suggests that the beta-rich oligomers grow progressively in size to form critical higher order-oligomers from which the worm-like amyloid fibrils then form.