skip to main content

Title: Network Hamiltonian models reveal pathways to amyloid fibril formation

Amyloid fibril formation is central to the etiology of a wide range of serious human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and prion diseases. Despite an ever growing collection of amyloid fibril structures found in the Protein Data Bank (PDB) and numerous clinical trials, therapeutic strategies remain elusive. One contributing factor to the lack of progress on this challenging problem is incomplete understanding of the mechanisms by which these locally ordered protein aggregates self-assemble in solution. Many current models of amyloid deposition diseases posit that the most toxic species are oligomers that form either along the pathway to forming fibrils or in competition with their formation, making it even more critical to understand the kinetics of fibrillization. A recently introduced topological model for aggregation based on network Hamiltonians is capable of recapitulating the entire process of amyloid fibril formation, beginning with thousands of free monomers and ending with kinetically accessible and thermodynamically stable amyloid fibril structures. The model can be parameterized to match the five topological classes encompassing all amyloid fibril structures so far discovered in the PDB. This paper introduces a set of network statistical and topological metrics for quantitative analysis and characterization of the fibrillization mechanisms predicted by the network Hamiltonian model. The results not only provide insight into different mechanisms leading to similar fibril structures, but also offer targets for future experimental exploration into the mechanisms by which fibrils form.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The deposition of dense fibril plaques represents the pathological hallmark for a multitude of human disorders, including many neurodegenerative diseases. Fibril plaques are predominately composed of amyloid fibrils, characterized by their underlying cross beta-sheet architecture. Research into the mechanisms of amyloid formation has mostly focused on characterizing and modeling the growth of individual fibrils and associated oligomers from their monomeric precursors. Much less is known about the mechanisms causing individual fibrils to assemble into ordered fibrillar suprastructures. Elucidating the mechanisms regulating this “secondary” self-assembly into distinct suprastructures is important for understanding how individual protein fibrils form the prominent macroscopic plaques observed in disease. Whether and how amyloid fibrils assemble into either 2D or 3D supramolecular structures also relates to ongoing efforts on using amyloid fibrils as substrates or scaffolds for self-assembling functional biomaterials. Here, we investigated the conditions under which preformed amyloid fibrils of a lysozyme assemble into larger superstructures as a function of charge screening or pH. Fibrils either assembled into three-dimensional gel clusters or two-dimensional fibril sheets. The latter displayed optical birefringence, diagnostic of amyloid plaques. We presume that pH and salt modulate fibril charge repulsion, which allows anisotropic fibril–fibril attraction to emerge and drive the transition from 3D to 2D fibril self-assembly. 
    more » « less
  2. Filaments made up of different isoforms of tau protein are associated with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Filaments made up of the 4R-tau isoform, which has four repeat regions (R1 to R4), are found in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, while filaments made of the 3R-tau isoform, which contains only three repeat units (R1, R3, and R4), are found in patients with Pick’s disease (frontotemporal dementia). In this work, a predictive coarse-grained protein force field, the associative memory water-mediated structure and energy model (AWSEM), is used to study the energy landscapes of nucleation of the two different fibrils derived from patients with Pick’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The landscapes for nucleating both fibril types contain amorphous oligomers leading to branched structures as well as prefibrillar oligomers. These two classes of oligomers differ in their structural details: The prefibrillar oligomers have more parallel in-register β-strands, which ultimately lead to amyloid fibrils, while the amorphous oligomers are characterized by a near random β-strand stacking, leading to a distinct amorphous phase. The landscape topography suggests that there must be significant structural reordering, or “backtracking,” to transit from the amorphous aggregation channel to the fibrillization channel. Statistical mechanical perturbation theory allows us to evaluate the effects of changing concentration on the aggregation free-energy landscapes and to predict the effects of phosphorylation, which is known to facilitate the aggregation of tau repeats.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    We previously presented a bioinformatic method for identifying diseases that arise from a mutation in a protein's low-complexity domain that drives the protein into pathogenic amyloid fibrils. One protein so identified was the tropomyosin-receptor kinase–fused gene protein (TRK-fused gene protein or TFG). Mutations in TFG are associated with degenerative neurological conditions. Here, we present experimental evidence that confirms our prediction that these conditions are amyloid-related. We find that the low-complexity domain of TFG containing the disease-related mutations G269V or P285L forms amyloid fibrils, and we determine their structures using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). These structures are unmistakably amyloid in nature and confirm the propensity of the mutant TFG low-complexity domain to form amyloid fibrils. Also, despite resulting from a pathogenic mutation, the fibril structures bear some similarities to other amyloid structures that are thought to be nonpathogenic and even functional, but there are other factors that support these structures' relevance to disease, including an increased propensity to form amyloid compared with the wild-type sequence, structure-stabilizing influence from the mutant residues themselves, and double-protofilament amyloid cores. Our findings elucidate two potentially disease-relevant structures of a previously unknown amyloid and also show how the structural features of pathogenic amyloid fibrils may not conform to the features commonly associated with pathogenicity.

    more » « less
  4. Walters, Kylie J. (Ed.)
    Transactive response DNA-binding Protein of 43 kDa (TDP-43) assembles various aggregate forms, including biomolecular condensates or functional and pathological amyloids, with roles in disparate scenarios (e.g., muscle regeneration versus neurodegeneration). The link between condensates and fibrils remains unclear, just as the factors controlling conformational transitions within these aggregate species: Salt- or RNA-induced droplets may evolve into fibrils or remain in the droplet form, suggesting distinct end point species of different aggregation pathways. Using microscopy and NMR methods, we unexpectedly observed in vitro droplet formation in the absence of salts or RNAs and provided visual evidence for fibrillization at the droplet surface/solvent interface but not the droplet interior. Our NMR analyses unambiguously uncovered a distinct amyloid conformation in which Phe-Gly motifs are key elements of the reconstituted fibril form, suggesting a pivotal role for these residues in creating the fibril core. This contrasts the minor participation of Phe-Gly motifs in initiation of the droplet form. Our results point to an intrinsic (i.e., non-induced) aggregation pathway that may exist over a broad range of conditions and illustrate structural features that distinguishes between aggregate forms. 
    more » « less
  5. The protein p53 is a crucial tumor suppressor, often called “the guardian of the genome”; however, mutations transform p53 into a powerful cancer promoter. The oncogenic capacity of mutant p53 has been ascribed to enhanced propensity to fibrillize and recruit other cancer fighting proteins in the fibrils, yet the pathways of fibril nucleation and growth remain obscure. Here, we combine immunofluorescence three-dimensional confocal microscopy of human breast cancer cells with light scattering and transmission electron microscopy of solutions of the purified protein and molecular simulations to illuminate the mechanisms of phase transformations across multiple length scales, from cellular to molecular. We report that the p53 mutant R248Q (R, arginine; Q, glutamine) forms, both in cancer cells and in solutions, a condensate with unique properties, mesoscopic protein-rich clusters. The clusters dramatically diverge from other protein condensates. The cluster sizes are decoupled from the total cluster population volume and independent of the p53 concentration and the solution concentration at equilibrium with the clusters varies. We demonstrate that the clusters carry out a crucial biological function: they host and facilitate the nucleation of amyloid fibrils. We demonstrate that the p53 clusters are driven by structural destabilization of the core domain and not by interactions of its extensive unstructured region, in contradistinction to the dense liquids typical of disordered and partially disordered proteins. Two-step nucleation of mutant p53 amyloids suggests means to control fibrillization and the associated pathologies through modifying the cluster characteristics. Our findings exemplify interactions between distinct protein phases that activate complex physicochemical mechanisms operating in biological systems.

    more » « less