ArticleFree-Energy Landscape of the Amino-Terminal Fragment of Huntingtin in Aqueous Solution
Review articleOpen access

AbstractThe first exon of Huntingtin—a protein with multiple biological functions whose misfolding is related to Huntington’s disease—modulates its localization, aggregation, and function within the cell. It is composed of a 17-amino-acid amphipathic segment (Htt17), an amyloidogenic segment of consecutive glutamines (QN), and a proline-rich segment. Htt17 is of fundamental importance: it serves as a membrane anchor to control the localization of huntingtin, it modulates huntingtin’s function through posttranslational modifications, and it controls the self-assembly of the amyloidogenic QN segment into oligomers and fibrils. Experimentally, the conformational ensemble of the Htt17 monomer, as well as the impact of the polyglutamine and proline-rich segments, remains, however, mostly uncharacterized at the atomic level due to its intrinsic flexibility. Here, we unveil the free-energy landscape of Htt17, Htt17Q17, and Htt17Q17P11 using Hamiltonian replica exchange combined with well-tempered metadynamics. We characterize the free-energy landscape of these three fragments in terms of a few selected collective variables. Extensive simulations reveal that the free energy of Htt17 is dominated by a broad ensemble of configurations that agree with solution NMR chemical shifts. Addition of Q17 at its carboxy-terminus reduces the extent of the main basin to more extended configurations of Htt17 with lower helix propensity. Also, the aliphatic carbons of Q17 partially sequester the nonpolar amino acids of Htt17. For its part, addition of Q17P11 shifts the overall landscape to a more extended and helical Htt17 stabilized by interactions with Q17 and P11, which almost exclusively form a PPII-helix, as well as by intramolecular H-bonds and salt bridges. Our characterization of Huntingtin’s amino-terminus provides insights into the structural origin of its ability to oligomerize and interact with phospholipid bilayers, processes closely linked to the biological functions of this protein.

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