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The conformational transition of the human prion protein from an alpha-helical to a beta-sheet-rich structure is believed to be the critical event in prion pathogenesis. The molecular mechanism of misfolding and the role of intermediate states during this transition remain poorly understood. To overcome the obstacle of insolubility of amyloid fibrils, we have studied a beta-sheet-rich misfolded isoform of the prion protein, the beta-oligomer, which shares some structural properties with amyloid, including partial proteinase resistance. We demonstrate here that the beta-oligomer can be studied by solution-state NMR spectroscopy and obtain insights into the misfolding mechanism via its transient monomeric precursor. It is often assumed that misfolding into beta-sheet-rich isoforms proceeds via a compatible precursor with a beta-sheet subunit structure. We show here, on the contrary, evidence for an almost natively alpha-helix-rich monomeric precursor state with molten globule characteristics, converting in vitro into the beta-oligomer. We propose a possible mechanism for the formation of the beta-oligomer, triggered by intermolecular contacts between constantly rearranging structures. It is concluded that the beta-oligomer is not preceded by precursors with beta-sheet structure but by a partially unfolded clearly distinguishable alpha-helical state.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





6300 - 6307


Amyloid, Dimerization, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Prions, Protein Conformation, Protein Folding, Protein Structure, Secondary