The unusual genetic properties of the non-chromosomal genetic elements [URE3] and [PSI+] led to them being identified as prions (infectious proteins) of Ure2p and Sup35p respectively. Ure2p and Sup35p, and now several other proteins, can form amyloid, a linear ordered polymer of protein monomers, with a part of each molecule, the prion domain, forming the core of this β-sheet structure. Amyloid filaments passed to a new cell seed the conversion of the normal form of the protein into the same amyloid form. The cell's phenotype is affected, usually from the deficiency of the normal form of the protein. Solid-state NMR studies indicate that the yeast prion amyloids are in-register parallel β-sheet structures, in which each residue (e.g. Asn35) forms a row along the filament long axis. The favourable interactions possible for aligned identical hydrophilic and hydrophobic residues are believed to be the mechanism for propagation of amyloid conformation. Thus, just as DNA mediates inheritance by templating its own sequence, these proteins act as genes by templating their conformation. Distinct isolates of a given prion have different biological properties, presumably determined by differences between the amyloid structures. Many lines of evidence indicate that the Saccharomyces cerevisiae prions are pathological disease agents, although the example of the [Het-s] prion of Podospora anserina shows that a prion can have beneficial aspects.

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