The early intermediates in the protein aggregation pathway, the elusive soluble aggregates, play a pivotal role in growth and maturation of ordered aggregates such as amyloid fibrils. Blocking the growth of soluble oligomers is an effective strategy to inhibit aggregation. To decipher the molecular mechanisms and develop better strategies to arrest aggregation, it is imperative to understand how the size, molecular dynamics, activity and growth kinetics of soluble aggregates are affected when aggregation is inhibited. With this objective, in the present study we have investigated the influence of additives such as SDS, CTAB (cetyltrimethylammonium bromide) and DTT (dithiothreitol) on the slow aggregation of HEWL (hen eggwhite lysozyme) at pH 12.2. For this purpose, techniques such as steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy of covalently labelled dansyl probe, gel-filtration chromatography, estimation of free thiol groups, thioflavin T and ANS (8-anilinonaphthalene-1-sulfonic acid) fluorescence, CD and atomic-force microscopy were employed to monitor the soluble oligomers over a period spanning 30 days. The results of the present study reveal that: (i) the spontaneous formation of soluble aggregates is irreversible and abolishes activity; (ii) the initial growth of aggregates (0–24 h) is promoted by a gradual increase in the exposure of hydrophobic surfaces; (iii) subsequently intermolecular disulfide bonds are critical for the assembly and stability of aggregates; (iv) the tight molecular packing inside large aggregates which contributed to slow (∼5 ns) and restricted segmental motion of dansyl probe was clearly loosened up in the presence of additives, enabling fast (1–2 ns) and free motion (unlike DTT, the size of lysozyme complexes with surfactants, was large, due to a conglomeration of proteins and surfactants); (v) the aggregates show reduced helical content compared with native lysozyme, except in the presence of SDS; and (vi) DTT was more potent than SDS/CTAB in arresting the growth of aggregates.

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