ns can change a protein's function without affecting the genes that code for it, the protein can revert back to its original function, either spontaneously or with the help of molecular chaperones, the researchers write. The increased flexibility could allow organisms to respond more easily to environmental change.
"Basically, a prion-based inheritance lets an organism continuously monitor its environment and in a manner reminiscent of Lemarkian inheritance, respond to changes in the environment and pass these changes on to its progeny," said Jonathan Weissman, assistant professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at UCSF and senior author of the Cell paper.
The discovery of a new prion-forming region in a protein not before associated with prions supports the possibility that multiple prions could propagate independently in the same cell. These and other findings suggest that prion-based inheritance might play an important role not just in disease but in normal physiology, they point out.
In order for a prion to serve a regulatory role in the cell, it must propagate without interfering with other proteins, the scientists write. The remarkable specificity in prion growth which leads to the species barrier could also prevent different prions in the same cell from interacting and forming multi-protein aggregates, they conclude.
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Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco
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