Energy landscapes of a mechanical prion and their implications for the molecular mechanism of long-term memory

Condensed Matter journal club

Energy landscapes of a mechanical prion and their implications for the molecular mechanism of long-term memory

  • Event time: 11:30am
  • Event date: 20th May 2016
  • Speaker: Marieke Schor (Formerly School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Edinburgh)
  • Location: Room 2511,

Event details


Aplysia cytoplasmic polyadenylation element binding (CPEB) protein, a translational regulator that recruits mRNAs and facilitates translation, has been shown to be a key component in the formation of long-term memory. Experimental data show that CPEB exists in at least a low-molecular weight coiled-coil oligomeric form and an amyloid fiber form involving the Q-rich domain (CPEB-Q). Using a coarse-grained energy landscape model, we predict the structures of the low-molecular weight oligomeric form and the dynamics of their transitions to the β-form. Up to the decamer, the oligomeric structures are predicted to be coiled coils. Free energy profiles confirm that the coiled coil is the most stable form for dimers and trimers. The structural transition from α to β is shown to be concentration dependent, with the transition barrier decreasing with increased concentration. We observe that a mechanical pulling force can facilitate the α-helix to β-sheet (α-to-β) transition by lowering the free energy barrier between the two forms. Interactome analysis of the CPEB protein suggests that its interactions with the cytoskeleton could provide the necessary mechanical force. We propose that, by exerting mechanical forces on CPEB oligomers, an active cytoskeleton can facilitate fiber formation. This mechanical catalysis makes possible a positive feedback loop that would help localize the formation of CPEB fibers to active synapse areas and mark those synapses for forming a long-term memory after the prion form is established. The functional role of the CPEB helical oligomers in this mechanism carries with it implications for targeting such species in neurodegenerative diseases.
PNAS 113 5006-5011 (2016)
pdf version


Mingchen Chen, Weihua Zheng, Peter G. Wolynes

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