Amyloids exert numerous physiological and pathological activities. On the one hand, they perpetuate molecular memories and transduce intracellular signals; on the other, they precipitate incurable neurodegenerative and age-associated diseases. These disparate activities unfold over time scales that exceed the lifespan of the proteins or even the cells that harbor them. Our long-term goal is to determine whether, and how, these time scales emerge from the kinetics of amyloid formation in living cells. Toward this goal, we have focused on the critical first step of amyloid formation: nucleation. The probabilistic nature of nucleation has made its study exceedingly difficult with established cytological tools. We therefore developed Distributed Amphifluoric FRET (DAmFRET) to quantify nucleation as a function of a given protein?s concentration in living cells. We have now used DAmFRET to analyze nucleation of diverse amyloids and related polymers, and these data lead us to propose the central hypothesis of this grant: low-specificity interactions critically influence the rates and structural outcomes of amyloid nucleation in vivo. This hypothesis makes the following predictions that will be tested in our Specific Aims: that nucleation will favor increasingly labile amyloids with 1) increasing protein concentration or 2) condensation of the protein; and 3) that the ability of amyloids of one protein to nucleate amyloids of a different protein depends on their disordered content rather than their structure. Completing this investigation will reveal critical mechanistic features of nucleation by diverse proteins in living cells, including the thermodynamic underpinnings of nucleation barriers, and networks of pathological cross-seeding. It will also have opened a conduit to fundamental physical insights that are presently beyond the reach of cell biology. These will yield a deeper understanding of, and ultimately new therapeutic options for, age- associated and neurodegenerative diseases.
Amyloids exert numerous physiological and pathological activities, the best known of which is neurodegeneration in the context of diseases such as Alzheimer?s and ALS. Our proposed studies seek to understand the mechanisms by which amyloids nucleate, or first begin to assemble, in living cells. This research will yield a deeper understanding of the sequence- and structurally-encoded kinetic barriers to nucleation, which may ultimately reveal new therapeutic options for age-associated and neurodegenerative diseases.