Oligomeric and protofibrillar aggregates formed by the amyloid-? peptide (A?) are believed to be involved in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease. Central to Alzheimer pathology is also the fact that the longer A?42 peptide is more prone to aggregation than the more prevalent A?40 . Detailed structural studies of A? oligomers and protofibrils have been impeded by aggregate heterogeneity and instability. We previously engineered a variant of A? that forms stable protofibrils and here we use solid-state NMR spectroscopy and molecular modeling to derive a structural model of these. NMR data are consistent with packing of residues 16 to 42 of A? protomers into hexameric barrel-like oligomers within the protofibril. The core of the oligomers consists of all residues of the central and C-terminal hydrophobic regions of A?, and hairpin loops extend from the core. The model accounts for why A?42 forms oligomers and protofibrils more easily than A?40 .
Affibody molecules are engineered binding proteins, in which the three-helix bundle motif of the Z domain derived from protein A is used as a scaffold for sequence variation. We used phage display to select Affibody binders to staphylococcal protein A itself. The best binder, called ZpA963, binds with similar affinity and kinetics to the five homologous E, D, A, B and C domains of protein A, and to a five-domain protein A construct with an average dissociation constant, K(D), of ~20 nM. The structure of ZpA963 in complex with the Z domain shows that it interacts with a surface on Z that is identical in the five protein A domains, which explains the multi-domain affinity. This property allows for high-affinity binding by dimeric Affibody molecules that simultaneously engage two protein A domains in a complex. We studied two ZpA963 dimers in which the subunits were linked by a C-terminal disulfide in a symmetric dimer or head-to-tail in a fusion protein, respectively. The dimers both bind protein A with high affinity, very slow off-rates and with saturation-dependent kinetics that can be understood in terms of dimer binding to multiple sites. The head-to-tail (ZpA963)2htt dimer binds with an off-rate of k(off) ? 5 × 10(-6) s(-1) and an estimated K(D) ? 16 pM. The results illustrate how dimers of selected monomer binding proteins can provide an efficient route for engineering of high-affinity binders to targets that contain multiple homologous domains or repeated structural units.
Structural and biochemical studies of the aggregation of the amyloid-? peptide (A?) are important to understand the mechanisms of Alzheimers disease, but research is complicated by aggregate inhomogeneity and instability. We previously engineered a hairpin form of A? called A?cc, which forms stable protofibrils that do not convert into amyloid fibrils. Here we provide a detailed characterization of A?42cc protofibrils. Like wild type A? they appear as smooth rod-like particles with a diameter of 3.1 (±0.2) nm and typical lengths in the range 60 to 220 nm when observed by atomic force microscopy. Non-perturbing analytical ultracentrifugation and nanoparticle tracking analyses are consistent with such rod-like protofibrils. A?42cc protofibrils bind the ANS dye indicating that they, like other toxic protein aggregates, expose hydrophobic surface. Assays with the OC/A11 pair of oligomer specific antibodies put A?42cc protofibrils into the same class of species as fibrillar oligomers of wild type A?. A?42cc protofibrils may be used to extract binding proteins in biological fluids and apolipoprotein E is readily detected as a binder in human serum. Finally, A?42cc protofibrils act to attenuate spontaneous synaptic activity in mouse hippocampal neurons. The experiments indicate considerable structural and chemical similarities between protofibrils formed by A?42cc and aggregates of wild type A?42. We suggest that A?42cc protofibrils may be used in research and applications that require stable preparations of protofibrillar A?.
The molecular biology underlying protein aggregation and neuronal death in Alzheimers disease is not yet completely understood, but small soluble nonamyloid aggregates of the amyloid ?-protein (A?) have been shown to play a fundamental neurotoxic role. The composition and biological action of such aggregates, known as oligomers and protofibrils, are therefore areas of intense study. However, research is complicated by the multitude of different interconverting aggregates that A? can form in vitro and in vivo, and by the inhomogeneity and instability of in vitro preparations. Here we review recent studies in which protein engineering, and in particular disulfide engineering, has been applied to stabilize different A? aggregates. For example, several techniques now exist to obtain stable and neurotoxic protofibrillar forms of A?, and engineered A? dimers, or larger aggregates formed by these, have been shown to specifically induce neuronal damage in a way that mimics Alzheimers disease pathology. Disulfide engineering has also revealed structural properties of neurotoxic aggregates, for instance that A? in protofibrils and globular oligomers adopts a ?-hairpin conformation that is similar to, but topologically distinct from, the conformation of A? in mature amyloid fibrils. Protein engineering is therefore a workable strategy to address many of the outstanding questions relating to the structure, interconversion and biological effects of oligomers and protofibrils of A?.
Small soluble oligomers, and dimers in particular, of the amyloid ?-peptide (A?) are believed to play an important pathological role in Alzheimers disease. Here, we investigate the spontaneous dimerization of A?42, with 42 residues, by implicit solvent all-atom Monte Carlo simulations, for the wild-type peptide and the mutants F20E, E22G and E22G/I31E. The observed dimers of these variants share many overall conformational characteristics but differ in several aspects at a detailed level. In all four cases, the most common type of secondary structure is intramolecular antiparallel ?-sheets. Parallel, in-register ?-sheet structure, as in models for A? fibrils, is rare. The primary force driving the formation of dimers is hydrophobic attraction. The conformational differences that we do see involve turns centered in the 20-30 region. The probability of finding turns centered in the 25-30 region, where there is a loop in A? fibrils, is found to increase upon dimerization and to correlate with experimentally measured rates of fibril formation for the different A?42 variants. Our findings hint at reorganization of this part of the molecule as a potentially critical step in A? aggregation.
Soluble oligomeric aggregates of the amyloid-beta peptide (Abeta) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimers disease (AD). Although the conformation adopted by Abeta within these aggregates is not known, a beta-hairpin conformation is known to be accessible to monomeric Abeta. Here we show that this beta-hairpin is a building block of toxic Abeta oligomers by engineering a double-cysteine mutant (called Abetacc) in which the beta-hairpin is stabilized by an intramolecular disulfide bond. Abeta(40)cc and Abeta(42)cc both spontaneously form stable oligomeric species with distinct molecular weights and secondary-structure content, but both are unable to convert into amyloid fibrils. Biochemical and biophysical experiments and assays with conformation-specific antibodies used to detect Abeta aggregates in vivo indicate that the wild-type oligomer structure is preserved and stabilized in Abetacc oligomers. Stable oligomers are expected to become highly toxic and, accordingly, we find that beta-sheet-containing Abeta(42)cc oligomers or protofibrillar species formed by these oligomers are 50 times more potent inducers of neuronal apoptosis than amyloid fibrils or samples of monomeric wild-type Abeta(42), in which toxic aggregates are only transiently formed. The possibility of obtaining completely stable and physiologically relevant neurotoxic Abeta oligomer preparations will facilitate studies of their structure and role in the pathogenesis of AD. For example, here we show how kinetic partitioning into different aggregation pathways can explain why Abeta(42) is more toxic than the shorter Abeta(40), and why certain inherited mutations are linked to protofibril formation and early-onset AD.
The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is specifically overexpressed in tumors of several cancers, including an aggressive form of breast cancer. It is therefore a target for both cancer diagnostics and therapy. The 58 amino acid residue Zher2 affibody molecule was previously engineered as a high-affinity binder of HER2. Here we determined the structure of Zher2 in solution and the crystal structure of Zher2 in complex with the HER2 extracellular domain. Zher2 binds to a conformational epitope on HER2 that is distant from those recognized by the therapeutic antibodies trastuzumab and pertuzumab. Its small size and lack of interference may provide Zher2 with advantages for diagnostic use or even for delivery of therapeutic agents to HER2-expressing tumors when trastuzumab or pertuzumab are already employed. Biophysical characterization shows that Zher2 is thermodynamically stable in the folded state yet undergoing conformational interconversion on a submillisecond time scale. The data suggest that it is the HER2-binding conformation that is formed transiently prior to binding. Still, binding is very strong with a dissociation constant K(D) = 22 pM, and perfect conformational homogeneity is therefore not necessarily required in engineered binding proteins. A comparison of the original Z domain scaffold to free and bound Zher2 structures reveals how high-affinity binding has evolved during selection and affinity maturation and suggests how a compromise between binding surface optimization and stability and dynamics of the unbound state has been reached.
The properties of the amyloid-beta peptide that lead to aggregation associated with Alzheimers disease are not fully understood. This study aims at identifying conformational differences among four variants of full-length Abeta42 that are known to display very different aggregation properties. By extensive all-atom Monte Carlo simulations, we find that a variety of beta-sheet structures with distinct turns are readily accessible for full-length Abeta42. In the simulations, wild type (WT) Abeta42 preferentially populates two major classes of conformations, either extended with high beta-sheet content or more compact with lower beta-sheet content. The three mutations studied alter the balance between these classes. Strong mutational effects are observed in a region centered at residues 23-26, where WT Abeta42 tends to form a turn. The aggregation-accelerating E22G mutation associated with early onset of Alzheimers disease makes this turn region conformationally more diverse, whereas the aggregation-decelerating F20E mutation has the reverse effect, and the E22G/I31E mutation reduces the turn population. Comparing results for the four Abeta42 variants, we identify specific conformational properties of residues 23-26 that might play a key role in aggregation.
The outer membrane usher protein Caf1A of the plague pathogen Yersinia pestis is responsible for the assembly of a major surface antigen, the F1 capsule. The F1 capsule is mainly formed by thin linear polymers of Caf1 (capsular antigen fraction 1) protein subunits. The Caf1A usher promotes polymerization of subunits and secretion of growing polymers to the cell surface. The usher monomer (811 aa, 90.5 kDa) consists of a large transmembrane ?-barrel that forms a secretion channel and three soluble domains. The periplasmic N-terminal domain binds chaperone-subunit complexes supplying new subunits for the growing fiber. The middle domain, which is structurally similar to Caf1 and other fimbrial subunits, serves as a plug that regulates the permeability of the usher. Here we describe the identification, characterization, and crystal structure of the Caf1A usher C-terminal domain (Caf1A(C)). Caf1A(C) is shown to be a periplasmic domain with a seven-stranded ?-barrel fold. Analysis of C-terminal truncation mutants of Caf1A demonstrated that the presence of Caf1A(C) is crucial for the function of the usher in vivo, but that it is not required for the initial binding of chaperone-subunit complexes to the usher. Two clusters of conserved hydrophobic residues on the surface of Caf1A(C) were found to be essential for the efficient assembly of surface polymers. These clusters are conserved between the FGL family and the FGS family of chaperone-usher systems.
Protein aggregation, arising from the failure of the cell to regulate the synthesis or degradation of aggregation-prone proteins, underlies many neurodegenerative disorders. However, the balance between the synthesis, clearance, and assembly of misfolded proteins into neurotoxic aggregates remains poorly understood. Here we study the effects of modulating this balance for the amyloid-beta (Abeta) peptide by using a small engineered binding protein (Z(Abeta3)) that binds with nanomolar affinity to Abeta, completely sequestering the aggregation-prone regions of the peptide and preventing its aggregation. Co-expression of Z(Abeta3) in the brains of Drosophila melanogaster expressing either Abeta(42) or the aggressive familial associated E22G variant of Abeta(42) abolishes their neurotoxic effects. Biochemical analysis indicates that monomer Abeta binding results in degradation of the peptide in vivo. Complementary biophysical studies emphasize the dynamic nature of Abeta aggregation and reveal that Z(Abeta3) not only inhibits the initial association of Abeta monomers into oligomers or fibrils, but also dissociates pre-formed oligomeric aggregates and, although very slowly, amyloid fibrils. Toxic effects of peptide aggregation in vivo can therefore be eliminated by sequestration of hydrophobic regions in monomeric peptides, even when these are extremely aggregation prone. Our studies also underline how a combination of in vivo and in vitro experiments provide mechanistic insight with regard to the relationship between protein aggregation and clearance and show that engineered binding proteins may provide powerful tools with which to address the physiological and pathological consequences of protein aggregation.
Nucleophilic attack by a side chain nucleophile on the adjacent peptide bond followed by N --> O or N --> S acyl shift is the primary step in protein autoproteolysis. Precursor structures of autoproteolytic proteins reveal strained (or twisted) amides at the site of cleavage, and we previously showed that SEA domain autoproteolysis involves substrate destabilization by approximately 7 kcal/mol. However, the precise chemical mechanism by which conformational energy is converted into reaction rate acceleration has not been understood. Here we show that the pH dependence of autoproteolysis in a slow-cleaving mutant (1G) of the MUC1 SEA domain is consistent with a mechanism in which N --> O acyl shift proceeds after initial protonation of the amide nitrogen. Unstrained amides have pK(a) values of 0 with protonation on the oxygen, and autoproteolysis is therefore immeasurably slow at neutral pH. However, conformational strain forces the peptide nitrogen into a pyramidal conformation with a significantly increased pK(a) for protonation. We find that pK(a) values of approximately 4 and approximately 6, as in model compounds of twisted amides, reproduce the rate of autoproteolysis in the 1G and wild-type SEA domains, respectively. A mechanism involving strain, nitrogen protonation, and N --> O shift is also supported by quantum-chemical calculations. Such a reaction therefore constitutes an alternative to peptide cleavage that is utilized in autoproteolysis, as opposed to a classical mechanism involving a structurally conserved active site with a catalytic triad and an oxyanion hole, which are not present at the SEA domain cleavage site.
We have previously generated an affibody molecule for the disease-associated amyloid beta (A?) peptide, which has been shown to inhibit the formation of various A? aggregates and revert the neurotoxicity of A? in a fruit fly model of Alzheimers disease. In this study, we have investigated a new bacterial display system for combinatorial protein engineering of the A?-binder as a head-to-tail dimeric construct for future optimization efforts, e.g. affinity maturation. Using the bacterial display platform, we have: (i) demonstrated functional expression of the dimeric binder on the cell surface, (ii) determined the affinity and investigated the pH sensitivity of the interaction, (iii) demonstrated the importance of an intramolecular disulfide bond through selections from a cell-displayed combinatorial library, as well as (iv) investigated the effects from rational truncation of the N-terminal part of the affibody molecule on surface expression level and A? binding. Overall, the detailed engineering and characterization of this promising A?-specific affibody molecule have yielded valuable insights concerning its unusual binding mechanism. The results also demonstrated that our bacterial display system is a suitable technology for future protein engineering and characterization efforts of homo- or heterodimeric affinity proteins.
Amyloid is aggregated protein in the form of insoluble fibrils. Amyloid deposition in human tissue-amyloidosis-is associated with a number of diseases including all common dementias and type II diabetes. Considerable progress has been made to understand the mechanisms leading to amyloid formation. It is, however, not yet clear by which mechanisms amyloid and protein aggregates formed on the path to amyloid are cytotoxic. Strategies to prevent protein aggregation and amyloid formation are nevertheless, in many cases, promising and even successful. This review covers research on intervention of amyloidosis and highlights several examples of how inhibition of protein aggregation and amyloid formation has been achieved in practice. For instance, rational design can provide drugs that stabilize a native folded state of a protein, protein engineering can provide new binding proteins that sequester monomeric peptides from aggregation, small molecules and peptides can be designed to block aggregation or direct it into non-cytotoxic paths, and monoclonal antibodies have been developed for therapies towards neurodegenerative diseases based on inhibition of amyloid formation and clearance.
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