Partially Unfolded Forms of the Prion Protein Populated under Misfolding-promoting Conditions: CHARACTERIZATION BY HYDROGEN EXCHANGE MASS SPECTROMETRY AND NMR

J Biol Chem. 2015 Oct 16;290(42):25227-40. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.677575. Epub 2015 Aug 25.


The susceptibility of the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) to convert to an alternative misfolded conformation (PrP(Sc)), which is the key event in the pathogenesis of prion diseases, is indicative of a conformationally flexible native (N) state. In the present study, hydrogen-deuterium exchange (HDX) in conjunction with mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used for the structural and energetic characterization of the N state of the full-length mouse prion protein, moPrP(23-231), under conditions that favor misfolding. The kinetics of HDX of 34 backbone amide hydrogens in the N state were determined at pH 4. In contrast to the results of previous HDX studies on the human and Syrian hamster prion proteins at a higher pH, various segments of moPrP were found to undergo different extents of subglobal unfolding events at pH 4, a pH at which the protein is known to be primed to misfold to a β-rich conformation. No residual structure around the disulfide bond was observed for the unfolded state at pH 4. The N state of the prion protein was observed to be at equilibrium with at least two partially unfolded forms (PUFs). These PUFs, which are accessed by stochastic fluctuations of the N state, have altered surface area exposure relative to the N state. One of these PUFs resembles a conformation previously implicated to be an initial intermediate in the conversion of monomeric protein into misfolded oligomer at pH 4.

Keywords: hydrogen-deuterium exchange; mass spectrometry (MS); nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR); partially unfolded forms; prion; protein dynamic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Mice
  • Peptide Mapping
  • Prions / chemistry*
  • Protein Unfolding*
  • Urea / chemistry


  • Prions
  • Urea

Associated data

  • PDB/1AG2