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Polymorphism of Lysozyme Condensates

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posted on 07.09.2017 by Mohammad S. Safari, Michael C. Byington, Jacinta C. Conrad, Peter G. Vekilov
Protein condensates play essential roles in physiological processes and pathological conditions. Recently discovered mesoscopic protein-rich clusters may act as crucial precursors for the nucleation of ordered protein solids, such as crystals, sickle hemoglobin polymers, and amyloid fibrils. These clusters challenge settled paradigms of protein condensation as the constituent protein molecules present features characteristic of both partially misfolded and native proteins. Here we employ the antimicrobial enzyme lysozyme and examine the similarities between mesoscopic clusters, amyloid structures, and disordered aggregates consisting of chemically modified protein. We show that the mesoscopic clusters are distinct from the other two classes of aggregates. Whereas cluster formation and amyloid oligomerization are both reversible, aggregation triggered by reduction of the intramolecular S–S bonds is permanent. In contrast to the amyloid structures, protein molecules in the clusters retain their enzymatic activity. Furthermore, an essential feature of the mesoscopic clusters is their constant radius of less than 50 nm. The amyloid and disordered aggregates are significantly larger and rapidly grow. These findings demonstrate that the clusters are a product of limited protein structural flexibility. In view of the role of the clusters in the nucleation of ordered protein solids, our results suggest that fine-tuning the degree of protein conformational stability is a powerful tool to control and direct the pathways of protein condensation.