Changing the solvent accessibility of the prion protein disulfide bond markedly influences its trafficking and effect on cell function

Biochem J. 2010 May 13;428(2):169-82. doi: 10.1042/BJ20091635.


Prion diseases are fatal transmissible neurodegenerative diseases that result from structural conversion of the prion protein into a disease-associated isoform. The prion protein contains a single disulfide bond. Our analysis of all NMR structures of the prion protein (total of 440 structures over nine species) containing an explicit disulfide bond reveals that the bond exists predominantly in a stable low-energy state, but can also adopt a high-energy configuration. The side chains of two tyrosine residues and one phenylalanine residue control access of solvent to the disulfide bond. Notably, the side chains rotate away from the disulfide bond in the high-energy state, exposing the disulfide bond to solvent. The importance of these aromatic residues for protein function was analysed by mutating them to alanine residues and analysing the properties of the mutant proteins using biophysical and cell biological approaches. Whereas the mutant protein behaved similarly to wild-type prion protein in recombinant systems, the mutants were retained in the endoplasmic reticulum of mammalian cells and degraded by the proteasomal system. The cellular behaviour of the aromatic residue mutants was similar to the cellular behaviour of a disulfide bond mutant prion protein in which the cysteine residues were replaced with alanine, a result which is consistent with an unstable disulfide bond in the aromatic residue mutants. These observations suggest that the conformation of the prion protein disulfide bond may have implications for correct maturation and function of this protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Biological Transport / physiology*
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line
  • Cricetinae
  • Disulfides / chemistry*
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prions / chemistry*
  • Prions / genetics
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Rabbits
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Solvents / chemistry*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Swine


  • Disulfides
  • Prions
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Solvents