Pyroglutamylated Amyloid-β Peptide Reverses Cross β-Sheets by a Prion-Like Mechanism
American Chemical Society (ACS) -- The Journal of Physical Chemistry B
DOI 10.1021/jp412743s


The amyloid hypothesis causatively relates the fibrillar deposits of amyloid β peptide (Aβ) to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). More recent data, however, identify the soluble oligomers as the major cytotoxic entities. Pyroglutamylated Aβ (pE-Aβ) is present in AD brains and exerts augmented neurotoxicity, which is believed to result from its higher β-sheet propensity and faster fibrillization. While this concept is based on a set of experimental results, others have reported similar β-sheet contents in unmodified and pyroglutamylated Aβ, and slower aggregation of pE-Aβ as compared to unmodified Aβ, leaving the issue unresolved. Here, we assess the structural differences between Aβ and pE-Aβ peptides that may underlie their distinct cytotoxicities. Transmission electron microscopy identifies a larger number of prefibrillar aggregates of pE-Aβ at early stages of aggregation and suggests that pE-Aβ affects the fibrillogenesis even at low molar fractions. Circular dichroism and FTIR data indicate that while the unmodified Aβ readily forms β-sheet fibrils in aqueous media, pE-Aβ displays increased α-helical and decreased β-sheet propensity. Moreover, isotope-edited FTIR spectroscopy shows that pE-Aβ reverses β-sheet formation and hence fibrillogenesis of the unmodified Aβ peptide via a prion-like mechanism. These data provide a novel structural mechanism for pE-Aβ hypertoxicity; pE-Aβ undergoes faster formation of prefibrillar aggregates due to its increased hydrophobicity, thus shifting the initial stages of fibrillogenesis toward smaller, hypertoxic oligomers of partial α-helical structure.