TSE pathogenesis involves the accumulation of an abnormal misfolded protein, called PrPres, in infected hosts. In FY 2014: 1) We have collaborated with extramural investigators to identify designed α-Sheet peptides that inhibit amyloid formation by targeting toxic oligomers. Previous studies suggest that the toxic soluble-oligomeric form of different amyloid proteins share a common backbone conformation, but the amorphous nature of this oligomer prevents its structural characterization by experiment. Based on molecular dynamics simulations we proposed that toxic intermediates of different amyloid proteins adopt a common, nonstandard secondary structure, called α-sheet. We experimentally characterized peptides designed to be complementary to the α-sheet conformation observed in the simulations. We demonstrated inhibition of aggregation in two different amyloid systems, β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) and transthyretin, by these designed α-sheet peptides. When immobilized the α-sheet designs preferentially bind species from solutions enriched in the toxic conformer compared with non-aggregated, nontoxic species or mature fibrils. The designs display characteristic spectroscopic signatures distinguishing them from conventional secondary structures, supporting α-sheet as a structure involved in the toxic oligomer stage of amyloid formation and paving the way for novel therapeutics and diagnostics. 2) We have explored a combined in vitro/in silico approach to screen for active anti-prion compounds presenting acceptable drugability and pharmacokinetic parameters. A diverse panel of aromatic compounds was screened in neuroblastoma cells persistently infected with PrP(Sc) (ScN2a) for their ability to inhibit PK-resistant PrP (PrP(Res)) accumulation. From ∼200 compounds, 47 were effective in decreasing the accumulation of PrP(Res) in ScN2a cells. Pharmacokinetic and physicochemical properties were predicted in silico, allowing us to obtain estimates of relative blood brain barrier permeation and mutagenicity. MTT reduction assays showed that most of the active compounds were non cytotoxic. Compounds that cleared PrP(Res) from ScN2a cells, were non-toxic in the MTT assay, and presented a good pharmacokinetic profile were investigated for their ability to inhibit aggregation of an amyloidogenic PrP peptide fragment (PrP(109-149)). Molecular docking results provided structural models and binding affinities for the interaction between PrP and the most promising compounds. In summary, using this combined in vitro/in silico approach we have identified new small organic anti-scrapie compounds that decrease the accumulation of PrP(Res) in ScN2a cells, inhibit the aggregation of a PrP peptide, and possess pharmacokinetic characteristics that support their drugability. These compounds are attractive candidates for prion disease therapy. 3) We have studied the effects of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)on the conversion of PrP into scrapie PrP (PrP(Sc). GAGs exhibit a paradoxical effect, as they convert PrP into protease-resistant PrP (PrP-res) but also exert protective activity. We compared the stability and aggregation propensity of PrP and the heparin-PrP complex through the application of different in vitro aggregation approaches, including real-time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC). TSE-associated forms from mouse and hamster brain homogenates were used to seed RT-QuIC-induced fibrillization. In our study, interaction between heparin and cellular PrP (PrP(C)) increased thermal PrP stability, leading to an 8-fold decrease in temperature-induced aggregation. The interaction of low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWHep) with the PrP N- or C-terminal domain affected not only the extent of PrP fibrillization but also its kinetics, lowering the reaction rate constant from 1.04 to 0.29 s(-1) and increasing the lag phase from 12 to 19 h in RT-QuIC experiments. Our findings explain the protective effect of heparin in different models of prion and prion-like neurodegenerative diseases and establish the groundwork for the development of therapeutic strategies based on GAGs.

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Ferreira, N C; Ascari, L M; Hughson, A G et al. (2018) A Promising Antiprion Trimethoxychalcone Binds to the Globular Domain of the Cellular Prion Protein and Changes Its Cellular Location. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 62:
Kellock, Jackson; Hopping, Gene; Caughey, Byron et al. (2016) Peptides Composed of Alternating L- and D-Amino Acids Inhibit Amyloidogenesis in Three Distinct Amyloid Systems Independent of Sequence. J Mol Biol 428:2317-2328
Hopping, Gene; Kellock, Jackson; Barnwal, Ravi Pratap et al. (2014) Designed ?-sheet peptides inhibit amyloid formation by targeting toxic oligomers. Elife 3:e01681
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Hopping, Gene; Kellock, Jackson; Caughey, Byron et al. (2013) Designed Trpzip-3 ?-Hairpin Inhibits Amyloid Formation in Two Different Amyloid Systems. ACS Med Chem Lett 4:824-8
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