Glycosaminoglycan sulfation determines the biochemical properties of prion protein aggregates

Glycobiology. 2015 Jul;25(7):745-55. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwv014. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Prion diseases are transmissible neurodegenerative disorders associated with the conversion of the cellular prion protein, PrP(C), to a misfolded isoform called PrP(Sc). Although PrP(Sc) is a necessary component of the infectious prion, additional factors, or cofactors, have been shown to contribute to the efficient formation of transmissible PrP(Sc). Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are attractive cofactor candidates as they can be found associated with PrP(Sc) deposits, have been shown to enhance PrP misfolding in vitro, are found in the same cellular compartments as PrP(C) and have been shown to be disease modifying in vivo. Here we investigated the effects of the sulfated GAGs, heparin and heparan sulfate (HS), on disease associated misfolding of full-length recombinant PrP. More specifically, the degree of sulfation of these molecules was investigated for its role in modulating the disease-associated characteristics of PrP. Both heparin and HS induced a β-sheet conformation in recombinant PrP that was associated with the formation of aggregated species; however, the biochemical properties of the aggregates formed in the presence of heparin or HS varied in solubility and protease resistance. Furthermore, these properties could be modified by changes in GAG sulfation, indicating that subtle changes in the properties of prion disease cofactors could initiate disease associated misfolding.

Keywords: glycosaminoglycan; heparan sulfate; heparin; prions; sulfation.

MeSH terms

  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Sulfates / metabolism*


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Prions
  • Sulfates