Misfold an origami swan and the worst that happens is you wind up with an ugly paper duckling. Misfold one of the vital proteins in your body each of which must be folded in a particular way to perform its function and the result can be a debilitating neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's or Huntington's.
There are no cures for such brain-wasting diseases, but now Stanford researchers have taken an important step that may one day aid in developing therapies for them. They have literally popped the lid off one of the microscopic chambers in which many of life's most crucial proteins are folded, witnessing a surprising mechanism as the heretofore hidden folding process happened before their eyes.
Virtually all proteins need to be folded, whether in primitive organisms such as bacteria or multicellular creatures such as humans. Many are guided through the process by molecules called chaperones, of which a specialized subset chaperonins folds many of the most complex proteins.
Folding in bacteria has been studied in detail, but Judith Frydman, a professor of biology who led the Stanford research, said this is the first time anyone has seen the folding process performed in higher organisms.
"The mechanism of folding we saw in the chaperonin is very different from what we expected and from what has been seen in bacteria," Frydman said. "It was really surprising, and we are still amazed that it worked. This chaperonin appears to provide a unique chemical environment."
Chaperonins are shaped like a barrel, with two ring-shaped chambers arranged one atop the other. At the open end of each ring is a lid that opens and closes in a spiraling fashion, like the aperture of a camera, something Frydman's team discovered in 2008 while studying the chaperonin called TRiC. Since then, they've been working to solve the puzzle of how a protein gets folded once the chaperonin has grabbed it, pulled it into the chamber and th
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|