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Folding steps in the fibrillation of functional amyloid: denaturant sensitivity reveals common features in nucleation and elongation

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Functional bacterial amyloids (FuBA) are intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) which rapidly and efficiently aggregate, forming extremely stable fibrils. The conversion from IDP to amyloid is evolutionarily optimized and likely couples folding to association. Many FuBA contain several imperfect repeat sequences which contribute to the stability of mature FuBA fibrils. Aggregation can be considered an intermolecular extension of the process of intramolecular protein folding which has traditionally been studied using chemical denaturants. Here we employ denaturants to investigate folding steps during fibrillation of CsgA and FapC. We quantify protein compactification (i.e. the extent of burial of otherwise exposed surface area upon association of proteins) during different stages of fibrillation based on the dependence of fibrillation rate constants on the denaturant concentration (m-values) determined from fibrillation curves. For both proteins, urea mainly affects nucleation and elongation (not fragmentation), consistent with the fact that these steps involve both intra- and intermolecular association. The two steps have similar m-values, indicating that activation steps in nucleation and elongation involve the same level of folding. Surprisingly, deletion of two or three repeats from FapC leads to larger m-values (i.e. higher compactification) during the activation step of fibril growth. This observation is extended by SAXS analysis of the fibrils which indicates that weakening of the amyloidogenic core caused by repeat deletions causes a larger portion of normally unstructured regions of the protein to be included into the amyloid backbone. We conclude that the sensitivity of fibrillation to denaturants can provide useful insight into molecular mechanisms of aggregation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Pages (from-to)167337
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Nov 2021

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Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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