Crowding Alone Cannot Account for Cosolute Effect on Amyloid Aggregation

>Amyloid fiber formation is a specific form of protein aggregation, often resulting from the misfolding of native proteins. Aimed at modeling the crowded environment of the cell, recent experiments showed a reduction in fibrillation halftimes for amyloid-forming peptides in the presence of cosolutes that are preferentially excluded from proteins and peptides. The effect of excluded cosolutes has previously been attributed to the large volume excluded by such inert cellular solutes, sometimes termed “macromolecular crowding”. Here, we studied a model peptide that can fold to a stable monomeric β-hairpin conformation, but under certain solution conditions aggregates in the form of amyloid fibrils. Using Circular Dichroism spectroscopy (CD), we found that, in the presence of polyols and polyethylene glycols acting as excluded cosolutes, the monomeric β-hairpin conformation was stabilized with respect to the unfolded state. Stabilization free energy was linear with cosolute concentration, and grew with molecular volume, as would also be predicted by crowding models. After initiating the aggregation process with a pH jump, fibrillation in the presence and absence of cosolutes was followed by ThT fluorescence, transmission electron microscopy, and CD spectroscopy. Polyols (glycerol and sorbitol) increased the lag time for fibril formation and elevated the amount of aggregated peptide at equilibrium, in a cosolute size and concentration dependent manner. However, fibrillation rates remained almost unaffected by a wide range of molecular weights of soluble polyethylene glycols. Our results highlight the importance of other forces beyond the excluded volume interactions responsible for crowding that may contribute to the cosolute effects acting on amyloid formation.

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