The role of RNA in prion aggregation and disease

  • Datum:
  • Plats: A1:107a, BMC, Husargatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Kovachev, Petar Stefanov
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Struktur- och molekylärbiologi
  • Kontaktperson: Kovachev, Petar Stefanov
  • Disputation


As humanity evolved to witness an exceptionally high standard of living, Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes gradually replaced infections as the main limiting factors in longevity. It is both disturbing and captivating that such degenerative conditions are caused by the most ubiquitous biomolecule – the protein. Indeed, proteins are not only the most functional, but also the least understood of the cellular biopolymers. It is then not surprising that many severe human ailments are associated with aberrant proteostasis. The key, causative mechanism of proteinopathy is protein aggregation. Naturally occurring and sometimes functional, aggregation is an auxiliary pathway in protein folding. In the context of a crowded cellular environment, folding and aggregation are the least and one of the least understood molecular processes, respectively. Unravelling one can help deconstruct the other and vice versa, but also can provide mechanistic insight on degenerative proteinopathies. A special class of proteins, which appear to propagate their own aggregation, occupy center-stage in the scientific field devoted to this goal. These proteins known as prions, can exist in at least two distinct forms. With the human prion, one of those is functional and benign and the other is infectious, aggregation prone, self-replicating and fatally pathogenic. As it happens, prion disease shares many of the descriptive features of other proteinaceous neuropathies. That, and the seductive idea that prions dwell in the twilight zone between folding and aggregation, have made the prion phenomenon a fixation for many molecular biologists. This thesis, although not the product of fixation, deals with one aspect of the prion process – the involvement of a molecular cofactor.

Of all plausible adjuvants, RNAs have been proposed as likely participants in the prion process. Their prominent secondary structures and attractive polyanionic surfaces allow RNAs to freely engage in interactions, at times transmitting conformational information through induced fit effects. The present work summarizes the influence of various RNAs on the aggregation profiles of three prionogenic model systems. The produced results indicate a generic role for RNA in the molecular processes prion propagation and aggregation. Altogether, this study illustrates a previously overlooked RNA function, of potential relevance for protein-based disease.