Early Metastable Assembly during the Stress-Induced Formation of Worm-like Amyloid Fibrils of Nucleic Acid Binding Domains of TDP-43
Meenakshi Pillai, Santosh Kumar Jha
TDP-43 protein travels between the cytosol and the nucleus to perform its nucleic acid binding functions through its two tandem RNA recognition motif domains (TDP-43tRRM). When exposed to various environmental stresses, it forms abnormal aggregates in the cytosol of neurons, which are the hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other TDP-43 proteinopathies. However, the nature of early structural changes upon stress sensing and the consequent steps during the course of aggregation are not well understood. In this study, we show that under low-pH conditions, mimicking starvation stress, TDP-43tRRM undergoes a conformational opening reaction linked to the protonation of buried ionizable residues and grows into a metastable oligomeric assembly (called the “low-pH form” or the “L form”). In the L form, the protein molecules have disrupted tertiary structure, solvent-exposed hydrophobic patches, and mobile side chains but the native-like secondary structure remains intact. The L form structure is held by weak interactions and has a steep dependence on ionic strength. In the presence of as little as 15 mM KCl, it fully misfolds and further oligomerizes to form a β-sheet rich “β form” in at least two distinct steps. The β form has an ordered, stable structure that resembles worm-like amyloid fibrils. The unstructured regions of the protein gain structure during L ⇌ β conversion. Our results suggest that TDP-43tRRM could function as a stress sensor and support a recent model in which stress sensing during neurodegeneration occurs by assembly of proteins into metastable assemblies that are precursors to the solid aggregates.
Circular dichroism, Secondary structure, Tertiary structure, Kinetics, Aggregation, Chemical stability, Protein folding, Biochemistry