Tag Archives: Beta sheet

4 diseases explained at one blow said the protein chemist — part 1

A brilliant paper [ Science vol. 377 eabn5582 pp. 1 –> 20 ’22 ] explains how changing a single amino acid (proline) to another  can cause 4 different diseases, depending on the particular protein it is found in (and which proline of many is changed).

There is so much in this paper that it will take several posts to go over it all.  The chemistry in the paper is particularly fine.  So it’s back to Biochemistry 101 and the alpha helix and the beta sheet.

Have a look at this

https://cbm.msoe.edu/teachingResources/proteinStructure/secondary.html

If you can tell me how to get a picture like this into a WordPress post please make a comment.

The important point is that hydrogen bonds between the amide hydrogen of one amino acid and the carbonyl group of another hold the alpha helix and the beta pleated sheet together.

Enter proline : p//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proline.  Proline when not embedded in a protein has a hydrogen on the nitrogen atom in the ring.  When proline is joined to another amino acid by a peptide bond in a protein, the hydrogen on the nitrogen is no longer present.  So the hydrogen bond helping to hold the two structures (alpha helix and beta sheet) is no longer present at proline, and alpha helices and beta sheets containing proline are not has stable.  Prolines after the fourth amino acid of the alpha helix (e. g. after the first turn of the helix) produce a kink.  The proline can’t adopt the alpha helical configuration of the backbone and it can’t hydrogen bond.

But it’s even worse than that (and this observation may even be original).  Instead of a hydrogen bonding to the free electrons of the oxygen in the carbonyl group you have the two electrons on the nitrogen jammed up against them.  This costs energy and further destabilizes both structures.

Being a 5 membered ring which contains the alpha carbon of the amino acid, proline in proteins isn’t as flexible as other amino acids.

This is why proline is considered to be a helix breaker, and is used all the time in alpha helices spanning cellular membranes to cause kinks, giving them more flexibility.

There is much more to come — liquid liquid phase separation, prion like domains, low complexity sequences, frontotemporal dementia with ALS, TDP43, amyloid, Charcot Marie Tooth disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, for the present stare at the link to the diagram above.

We now understand what amyloid actually is

Lately we have received an embarrassment of riches about amyloid and the diseases it causes.  I’ll start with the latest — the structure of TDP amyloid.

I must say it is a pleasure to get back to chemistry and away from the pandemic, however briefly.  So relax and prepare to enjoy some great chemistry and protein structure.

TDP43 (you don’t to know what the acronym stands for) is a protein which binds to RNA (among other things).  It also forms aggregates, and some 50 mutations are known producing FrontoTemporal  Dementia (FTD) and/or Amyotrophic Lateral Dementia (ALS).  I saw a case as a resident (before things were worked out) and knew something was screwy because while ALS is a horrible disease, patients are clear to the end (witness Stephen Hawking) and my patient was clearly dementing.

Mutations in TDP43 occur in 5% of familial ALS.  More to the point cytoplasmic aggregates of TDP43 occur in 95% of sporadic cases of ALS (no mutations), so neurologists have been fascinated with TDP43 for years.

Back before we knew much about the structure of amyloid, it was characterized by the dyes that would bind to it (Congo Red, thioflavin etc.) and birefringence (see below).  None of this is true for the aggregates of TDP43.

Well we now know what the structure of amyloid is.  You simply can’t do better than  Cell vol. 184 pp. 4857 – 4873 ’21 — but it might be behind a paywall.

So here’s the skinny about what amyloid actually is —

 

It is a significantly long polypeptide chain  flattening  out into a 4.8 Angstrom thick sheet, essentially living in 2 dimensions.  Thousands of sheets then pile on top of each other forming amyloid.  So amyloid is not a particular protein, but a type of conformation a protein can assume (like the alpha helices, beta pleated sheets etc. etc. ).

The structure also explained why planar molecules like Congo Red bind to amyloid (it slips between the sheets).   Or at least that’s what I thought.

 

Enter Nature vol. 601 pp. 29 – 30, 139 – 143 ’22 showing that some 79 amino acids of the 414 amino acids of TDP43 flatten out into single sheet in the aggregates, with the sheets piling on top of each other.  If that isn’t amyloid, what is?

 

Where are the beta strands producing birefringence if this is amyloid.  In fact where is the birefringence? (see below). The paper says that there are 10 beta strands in the 79 amino acids, but they are short with only two of them containing more than 3 amino acids (I guess they can see beta strands by measuring backbone angles a la Ramachandran plots).  The high number of glycine mediated turns prevents beta sheets from stacking next to each other precluding the crossBeta  structure (and birefringence).

 

Why doesn’t Congo Red bind?  My idea about how it binds to other amyloids (slipping between the sheets) clearly is incorrect.

 

There are all sorts of fascinating points about the amyloid of TDP43.  The filaments derived from patients are stable to heating to 65 C.   The structure of the TDP43 fibrils derived from patients with FTD/ALS are quite different in structure from synthetic filaments made from parts of TDP43, so possibly a lot of work will have to be done again.

 

Here is some more detail on amyloid structure:

 

So start with NH – CO – CHR.  NH  CO and C in the structure all lie in the same plane (the H and the side chain of the amino acid < R >  project out of the plane).
Here’s a bit of elaboration for those of you whose organic chemistry is a distant memory.  The carbon in the carbonyl bond (CO) has 3 bonding orbitals in one plane 120 degrees apart, with the 4th orbital perpendicular to the plane — this is called sp2 hybridization.  The nitrogen can also be hybridized to sp2.  This lets the pair of electrons above the plane roam around moving toward the carbon.  Why is this good?  Because any time you let electrons roam around you increase their entropy (S) and anything increasing entropy lowers their free energy (F)which is given by the formula F = H – TS where H is enthalpy (a measure of bond strength, and T is the absolute temperature in Kelvin.

 

So N and CO are in one plane, and so are the bonds from  N and C to the adacent atoms (C in both cases).

 

You can fit the plane atoms into a  rectangle 4.8 Angstroms high.  Well that’s one 2 dimensional rectangle, but the peptide bond between NH and CO in adjacent rectangles allows you to tack NH – CO – C s together while keeping them in a 3 dimensional parallelopiped 4.8 Angstroms high

 

Notice that in the rectangle the NH and CO bonds are projecting toward the top and bottom of the rectangle, which means that in each plane  NH – CO – CHR s, the NH and CO are pointing out of the 2 dimensional plane (and in opposite directions to boot). This is unlike protein structure in which the backbone NHs and COs hydrogen bond to each other.  There is nothing in this structure for them to bond to

 

What they do is hydrogen bond to another 3 dimensional parallelopiped (call it a sheet, but keep in mind that this is NOT the beta sheet you know about from the 3 dimensional structures of proteins we’ve had for years).
So thousands of sheets stacked together form the amyloid fibril.

 

Where does the 9 Angstrom reflection of cross beta (and birefringence) come from?  Consider the  [ NH – CHR – CO ]  backbone as it lies in the 4.8  thick plane (Having studied proteins structure since entering med school in ’62, I never thought such a thing would even be possible ! ).  It curves around like a snake lying flat.  Where are the side chains?  They are in the 4.8 thick plane, separating parts of the meandering backbone from each other — by an average of 9 Angstroms.
Here is an excellent picture of the Alzheimer culprit — the aBeta42 peptide as it forms the amyloid of the senile plaque
You can see the meandering backbone and the side chains keeping the backbone apart.

Then Nature [ vol. 598,  pp. 359 – 363 ’21] blows the field wide open, finding 19 different conformations of tau in clinically distinct diseases. Each clinical disease appears to be associated with a distinct polymorphism.  This is also true for the polymorphisms of alpha-synuclein, with distinct conformations being seen in each of Parkinsonism, multiple system atrophy and Lewy body dementia.

In none of the above diseases is there a mutation (change in amino acid sequence) in the protein.

Henry J. Heinz claimed to have 57 varieties of pickles in 1896, but Cell [ vol. 184 pp. 4857 – 4873 ’21  ] Page 4862 claims that 24 amyloid polymorphs of alpha-synuclein have been found and structurally characterized.  Recall that alpha-synuclein amyloid is the principal component of the Lewy body of Parkinsonism  and Lewy Body disese

How did they get the 24 different conformations?  They incubated the protein under different conditions (e.g. different salt concentrations, different alpha-synuclein concentrations, different salts).

Why is this incredibly good news? 

Because it moves us past amyloid itself, to the conditions which cause amyloid to form.  Certainly, removing amyloid or attacking it hasn’t resulted in any clinical benefit for the Alzheimer patient despite billions being spent by Big Pharma to do so.

We will start to study the ‘root causes’ of amyloid formation.   The amino acid sequence of each protein is identical despite the different conformations of the chain in the amyloid. Clearly the causes must be different for each of the different polymorphs of the protein.  This just has to be true.

Maybe the backbone is more important than the side chains

I’m really embarrassed that I was unaware of the following work on protein design from Japan. Apparently, they were able to design proteins stable at 100 Centigrade using a methodology of which I was completely in the dark (N. Koga et al., Principles for designing ideal protein structures. Nature 491, 222–227 (2012), Y. R. Lin et al., Control over overall shape and size in de novo designed proteins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, E5478–E5485 (2015)). I read those journals but must have skipped the articles — I’ll have to go back and have a look.

A recent article (PNAS 117 31149 – 31156 ’20) brought it to my attention. Here’s what they say they’ve done.

“We proposed principles for designing ideal protein structures stabilized by completely consistent local and nonlocal interactions , based on a set of rules relating local backbone structures to preferred tertiary motifs (7, 10 — given above). These design rules describe the relation of the lengths or torsion patterns of two secondary structure elements and the connecting loop to favorable packing geometries . The design principles enable to encode strongly funneled energy landscapes into amino acid sequences, by the stabilization of folded structures (positive design) and by the destabilization of nonnative conformations (negative design) due to the restriction of folding conformational space by the rules”

Hard to believe but it works apparently. The paper also stands an idea about protein structure and stability on its head — the hydrophobic core of a compact protein, in this case a designed protein with a Rossmann fold (two pairs of alpha helices sandwiching a beta sheet is absolutely crucial to the ultimate 3 dimensional conformation of the protein backbone.

The protein is quite stable, not denaturing at 100 C. So then they mutated 10 of the large hydrophobic amino acids (leucine, isoleucine) to a small one (valine) so that 30 of the 34 amino acids in the core were valine and watched what happened.

What’s your guess? Mine would have been that the core was in a molten globule state and that backbone structure was lost.

That’s not what happened at all. The resulting protein was still stable over 100 C (although not quite as much by 5 KCal/mole)

To quote the authors again — “This result indicates that hydrophobic tight core packing may not be quite important for designed proteins: The folding ability and extremely high stability may arise from the restriction of conformational space to be searched during folding by the local backbone structures. This can lead to an exceptionally stable protein even in the absence of precise core packing.”

Astounding. However, this may not be true for proteins ‘designed’ by natural selection.
It’s time to try the same trick on some of them.

Amyloid

Amyloid goes way back, and scientific writing about has had various zigs and zags starting with Virchow (1821 – 1902) who named it because he thought it was made out of sugar.  For a long time it was defined by the way it looks under the microscope being birefringent when stained with Congo red (which came out 100 years ago,  long before we knew much about protein structure (Pauling didn’t propose the alpha helix until 1951).

Birefringence itself is interesting.  Light moves at different speeds as it moves through materials — which is why your legs look funny when you stand in shallow water.  This is called the refractive index.   Birefringent materials have two different refractive indexes depending on the orientation (polarization) of the light looking at it.  So when amyloid present in fixed tissue on a slide, you see beautiful colors — for pictures and much more please see — https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/iep.12330

So there has been a lot of confusion about what amyloid is and isn’t and even the exemplary Derek Lowe got it wrong in a recent post of his

“It needs to be noted that tau is not amyloid, and the TauRx’s drug has failed in the clinic in an Alzheimer’s trial.”

But Tau fibrils are amyloid, and prions are amyloid and the Lewy body is made of amyloid too, if you subscribe to the current definition of amyloid as something that shows a cross-beta pattern on Xray diffraction — https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Schematic-representation-of-the-cross-b-X-ray-diffraction-pattern-typically-produced-by_fig3_293484229.

Take about 500 dishes and stack them on top of each other and that’s the rough dimension of an amyloid fibril.  Each dish is made of a beta sheet.  Xray diffraction was used to characterize amyloid because no one could dissolve it, and study it by Xray crystallography.

Now that we have cryoEM, we’re learning much more.  I have , gone on and on about how miraculous it is that proteins have one or a few shapes — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/why-should-a-protein-have-just-one-shape-or-any-shape-for-that-matter/

So prion strains and the fact that alpha-synuclein amyloid aggregates produce different clinical disease despite having the same amino acid sequence was no surprise to me.

But it gets better.  The prion strains etc. etc may not be due to different structure but different decorations of the same structure by protein modifications.

The same is true for the different diseases that tau amyloid fibrils produce — never mind that they’ve been called neurofibrillary tangles and not amyloid, they have the same cross-beta structure.

A great paper [ Cell vol. 180 pp. 633 – 644 ’20 ] shows how different the tau protofilament from one disease (corticobasal degeneration) is from another (Alzheimer’s disease).  Figure three shows the side chain as it meanders around forming one ‘dish’ in the model above.  The meander is quite different in corticobasal degeneration (CBD) and Alzheimers.

It’s all the stuff tacked on. Tau is modified on its lysines (some 15% of all amino acids in the beta sheet forming part) by ubiquitination, acetylation and trimethylation, and by phosphorylation on serine.

Figure 3 is worth more of a look because it shows how different the post-translational modifications are of the same amino acid stretch of the tau protein in the Alzheimer’s and CBD.  Why has this not been seen before — because the amyloid was treated with pronase and other enzymes to get better pictures on cryoEM.  Isn’t that amazing.  Someone is probably looking to see if this explains prion strains.

The question arises — is the chain structure in space different because of the modifications, or are the modifications there because the chain structure in space is different.  This could go either way we have 500+ enzymes (protein kinases) putting phosphate on serine and/or threonine, each looking at a particular protein conformation around the two so they don’t phosphorylate everything — ditto for the enzymes that put ubiquitin on proteins.

Fascinating times.  Imagine something as simple as pronase hiding all this beautiful structure.

 

 

Does gamma-secretase have sex with its substrates?

This is a family blog (for the most part), so discretion is advised in reading further.   Billions have been spent trying to inhibit gamma-secretase.  Over 150 different mutations have been associated with familial Alzheimer’s disease.  The more we know about the way it works, the better.

A recent very impressive paper from China did just that [ Science vol. 363 pp. 690- 691, 701 eaaw0930 pp. 1 –> 8 ’19 ].

Gamma secretase is actually a combination of 4 proteins (presenilin1, nicastrin, APH1 (anterior pharynx defect) and PEN-2 (presenilin enhancer 2). It is embedded in membranes and has at least 19 transmembrane segments.  It cleaves a variety of proteins spanning membranes (e.g it hydrolyzes a peptide bond — which is just an amide).  The big deal is that cleavage occurs in the hydrophobic interior of the membrane rather than in the cytoplasm where there is plenty of water around.

Gamma secretase cleaves at least 20 different proteins this way, not just the amyloid precursor protein, one of whose cleavage products is the Abeta peptide making up a large component of the senile plaque of Alzheimer’s disease.

To get near gamma secretase, another enzyme must first cleave APP in another place so one extramembrane fragment is short.  Why so the rest of the protein can fit under a loop between two transmembrane helices of nicastrin.  This is elegance itself, so the gamma secretase doesn’t go around chopping up the myriad of extracellular proteins we have.

The 19 or so transmembrane helices of the 4 gamma secretase proteins form a horseshoe, into which migrates the transmembrane segment of the protein to be cleaved (once it can fit under the nicastrin loop).

So why is discretion advised before reading further?  Because the actual mechanism of cleavage involves intimate coupling of the proteins.    One of the transmembrane helices of presenilin1 unfolds to form two beta strands, and the transmembrane helix of the target protein unfolds to form one beta strand, the two strands pair up forming a beta sheet, and then the aspartic acid at the active site of gamma secretase cleaves the target (deflowers it if you will).  Is this sexual or what?

All in all another tribute to ingenuity (and possibly the prurience) of the blind watchmaker. What an elegant mechanism.

Have a look at the pictures in the Science article, but I think it is under a paywall.