Rebels with a cause: molecular features and physiological consequences of yeast prions

FEMS Yeast Res. 2014 Feb;14(1):136-47. doi: 10.1111/1567-1364.12116.


Prions are proteins that convert between structurally and functionally distinct states, at least one of which is self-perpetuating. The prion fold templates the conversion of native protein, altering its structure and function, and thus serves as a protein-based element of inheritance. Molecular chaperones ensure that these prion aggregates are divided and faithfully passed from mother cells to their daughters. Prions were originally identified as the cause of several rare neurodegenerative diseases in mammals, but the last decade has brought great progress in understanding their broad importance in biology and evolution. Most prion proteins regulate information flow in signaling networks, or otherwise affect gene expression. Consequently, switching into and out of prion states creates diverse new traits – heritable changes based on protein structure rather than nucleic acid. Despite intense study of the molecular mechanisms of this paradigm-shifting, epigenetic mode of inheritance, many key questions remain. Recent studies in yeast that support the view that prions are common, often beneficial elements of inheritance that link environmental stress to the appearance of new traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal*
  • Prions / genetics
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Protein Folding
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Prions