Evidence for assembly of prions with left-handed beta-helices into trimers

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jun 1;101(22):8342-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0402254101. Epub 2004 May 21.


Studies using low-resolution fiber diffraction, electron microscopy, and atomic force microscopy on various amyloid fibrils indicate that the misfolded conformers must be modular, compact, and adopt a cross-beta structure. In an earlier study, we used electron crystallography to delineate molecular models of the N-terminally truncated, disease-causing isoform (PrP(Sc)) of the prion protein, designated PrP 27-30, which polymerizes into amyloid fibrils, but we were unable to choose between a trimeric or hexameric arrangement of right- or left-handed beta-helical models. From a study of 119 all-beta folds observed in globular proteins, we have now determined that, if PrP(Sc) follows a known protein fold, it adopts either a beta-sandwich or parallel beta-helical architecture. With increasing evidence arguing for a parallel beta-sheet organization in amyloids, we contend that the sequence of PrP is compatible with a parallel left-handed beta-helical fold. Left-handed beta-helices readily form trimers, providing a natural template for a trimeric model of PrP(Sc). This trimeric model accommodates the PrP sequence from residues 89-175 in a beta-helical conformation with the C terminus (residues 176-227), retaining the disulfide-linked alpha-helical conformation observed in the normal cellular isoform. In addition, the proposed model matches the structural constraints of the PrP 27-30 crystals, positioning residues 141-176 and the N-linked sugars appropriately. Our parallel left-handed beta-helical model provides a coherent framework that is consistent with many structural, biochemical, immunological, and propagation features of prions. Moreover, the parallel left-handed beta-helical model for PrP(Sc) may provide important clues to the structure of filaments found in some other neurodegenerative diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Crystallography
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • PrPSc Proteins / chemistry*
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary*


  • PrPSc Proteins