Fibrillation precursor of superoxide dismutase 1 revealed by gradual tuning of the protein-folding equilibrium
Although superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) stands out as a relatively soluble protein in vitro, it can be made to fibrillate by mechanical agitation. The mechanism of this fibrillation process is yet poorly understood, but attains considerable interest due to SOD1’s involvement in the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In this study, we map out the apoSOD1 fibrillation process from how it competes with the global folding events at increasing concentrations of urea: We determine how the fibrillation lag time (τlag) and maximum growth rate (νmax) depend on gradual titration of the folding equilibrium, from the native to the unfolded state. The results show that the agitation-induced fibrillation of apoSOD1 uses globally unfolded precursors and relies on fragmentation-assisted growth. Mutational screening and fibrillation m-values (∂ log τlag/∂[urea] and ∂ log νmax/∂[urea]) indicate moreover that the fibrillation pathway proceeds via a diffusely bound transient complex that responds to the global physiochemical properties of the SOD1 sequence. Fibrillation of apoSOD1, as it bifurcates from the denatured ensemble, seems thus mechanistically analogous to that of disordered peptides, save the competing folding transition to the native state. Finally, we examine by comparison with in vivo data to what extent this mode of fibrillation, originating from selective amplification of mechanically brittle aggregates by sample agitation, captures the mechanism of pathological SOD1 aggregation in ALS.