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Hydrogels are water-swollen and viscoelastic three-dimensional cross-linked polymeric network originating from monomer polymerisation. Hydrogel-forming polypeptides are widely found in nature and, at a cellular and organismal level, they provide a wide range of functions for the organism making them. Amyloid structures, arising from polypeptide aggregation, can be damaging or beneficial to different types of organisms. Although the best-known amyloids are those associated with human pathologies, this underlying structure is commonly used by higher eukaryotes to maintain normal cellular activities, and also by microbial communities to promote their survival and growth. Amyloidogenesis occurs by nucleation-dependent polymerisation, which includes several species (monomers, nuclei, oligomers, and fibrils). Oligomers of pathological amyloids are considered the toxic species through cellular membrane perturbation, with the fibrils thought to represent a protective sink for toxic species. However, both functional and disease-associated amyloids use fibril cross-linking to form hydrogels. The properties of amyloid hydrogels can be exploited by organisms to fulfil specific physiological functions. Non-physiological hydrogelation by pathological amyloids may provide additional toxic mechanism(s), outside of membrane toxicity by oligomers, such as physical changes to the intracellular and extracellular environments, with wide-spread consequences for many structural and dynamic processes, and overall effects on cell survival.

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amyloid, hydrogel, pathology, physiology