Biophysical Underpinnings of the Repeat Length Dependence of Polyglutamine Amyloid Formation [Molecular Bases of Disease]

March 4th, 2014 by Landrum, E., Wetzel, R.

There are now 10 expanded CAG repeat diseases in which both disease risk and age-of-onset are strongly dependent on the repeat length of the polyglutamine (polyQ) sequence in the disease protein. Large, polyQ-rich inclusions in patient brains and in cell and animal models are consistent with the involvement of polyQ aggregation in the disease mechanism. This possibility is reinforced by studies showing strong repeat length dependence to the aggregation process, qualitatively mirroring the repeat length dependence of disease risk. Our understanding of the underlying biophysical principles that mediate the repeat length dependence of aggregation, however, is far from complete. A previous study of simple polyQ peptides showed that N*, the size of the critical nucleus that controls onset of aggregation, decreases from unfavorable tetramer to favorable monomer over the range Q23 to Q26. These data, however, do not explain why, for all peptides exhibiting N* ~ 1, spontaneous aggregation rates continue to increase with increasing repeat length. Here we describe a novel kinetics analyses that maps out the non-linear dependence with repeat length of a nucleation efficiency term that is likely related to aspects of nucleus structure. This trend accounts for why nucleus size increases to tetrameric at repeat lengths of Q23 or below. Intriguingly, both aggregation and age-of-onset trend with repeat length in similar ways, exhibiting large changes per added Gln at low repeat lengths, and small changes per added Gln at relatively long repeat lengths. Fibril stability also increases with repeat length in a non-linear fashion.