Single-molecule Force Spectroscopy Predicts a Misfolded, Domain-swapped Conformation in human D-Crystallin Protein
Journal of Biological Chemistry
Cataract is a protein misfolding disease where the size of the aggregate is directly related to the severity of the disorder. How- ever, the molecular mechanisms that trigger the onset of aggregation remain unknown. Here we use a combination of protein engineering techniques and single-molecule force spectroscopy using atomic force microscopy to study the individual unfolding pathways of the human D-crystallin, a multidomain protein that must remain correctly folded during the entire lifetime to guarantee lens transparency. When stretching individual poly- proteins containing two neighboring HD-crystallin monomers, we captured an anomalous misfolded conformation in which the b1 and b2 strands of the N terminus domain of two adjacent monomers swap. This experimentally elusive domain- swapped conformation is likely to be responsible for the increase in molecular aggregation that we measure in vitro. Our results demonstrate the power of force spectroscopy at capturing rare misfolded conformations with potential implications for the understanding of the molecular onset of protein aggregation.