A simple lattice model that captures protein folding, aggregation and amyloid formation

S. Abeln, M. Vendruscolo, C.M. Dobson, D. Frenkel

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The ability of many proteins to convert from their functional soluble state to amyloid fibrils can be attributed to intermolecular beta strand formation. Such amyloid formation is associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Molecular modelling can play a key role in providing insight into the factors that make proteins prone to fibril formation. However, fully atomistic models are computationally too expensive to capture the length and time scales associated with fibril formation. As the ability to form fibrils is the rule rather than the exception, much insight can be gained from the study of coarse-grained models that capture the key generic features associated with amyloid formation. Here we present a simple lattice model that can capture both protein folding and beta strand formation. Unlike standard lattice models, this model explicitly incorporates the formation of hydrogen bonds and the directionality of side chains. The simplicity of our model makes it computationally feasible to investigate the interplay between folding, amorphous aggregation and fibril formation, and maintains the capability of classic lattice models to simulate protein folding with high specificity. In our model, the folded proteins contain structures that resemble naturally occurring beta-sheets, with alternating polar and hydrophobic amino acids. Moreover, fibrils with intermolecular cross-beta strand conformations can be formed spontaneously out of multiple short hydrophobic peptide sequences. Both the formation of hydrogen bonds in folded structures and in fibrils is strongly dependent on the amino acid sequence, indicating that hydrogen-bonding interactions alone are not strong enough to initiate the formation of beta sheets. This result agrees with experimental observations that beta sheet and amyloid formation is strongly sequence dependent, with hydrophobic sequences being more prone to form such structures. Our model should open the way to a systematic study of the interplay between the factors that lead to amyloid formation. © 2014 Abeln et al.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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