Now, researchers have found a way to work around these limitations, illuminating the configuration of these sometimes pernicious molecules. And even though this work was done in yeast, the results provide hints as to why mad-cow type diseases tend to have a difficult time jumping species.
"These findings give us some fundamental insights in how amyloid fibers form," says Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist, lead scientist in the research team whose results will be published in the June 9 issue of the journal Nature. "They solve the important problem of identifying the intermolecular contacts that hold the amyloid fiber together."
Amyloid fibers are often composed of prions--proteins that misfold and recruit neighboring proteins to misfold as well, a process that Lindquist calls a "conformational cascade." When such a cascade occurs, the prions join and form amyloid fibers. (While not all amyloids are composed of prions, all known prions, in their transmissible states, form amyloid fibers.) But still, many scientists have been frustrated by their inability to gain anything more than a limited understanding of an amyloid's architecture.
Rajaraman Krishnan, a postdoctoral researcher in Lindquist's lab, found a way around that problem using strains of yeast. Rather than develop a single high-tech method for solving the amyloi
Contact: David Cameron
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research