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Kinetics of spontaneous filament nucleation via oligomers: Insights from theory and simulation

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Šarić, A 
Michaels, TCT 
Zaccone, A 
Knowles, TPJ 


Nucleation processes are at the heart of a large number of phenomena, from cloud formation to protein crystallization. A recently emerging area where nucleation is highly relevant is the initiation of filamentous protein self-assembly, a process that has broad implications in many research areas ranging from medicine to nanotechnology. As such, spontaneous nucleation of protein fibrils has received much attention in recent years with many theoretical and experimental studies focussing on the underlying physical principles. In this paper we make a step forward in this direction and explore the early time behaviour of filamentous protein growth in the context of nucleation theory. We first provide an overview of the thermodynamics and kinetics of spontaneous nucleation of protein filaments in the presence of one relevant degree of freedom, namely the cluster size. In this case, we review how key kinetic observables, such as the reaction order of spontaneous nucleation, are directly related to the physical size of the critical nucleus. We then focus on the increasingly prominent case of filament nucleation that includes a conformational conversion of the nucleating building-block as an additional slow step in the nucleation process. Using computer simulations, we study the concentration dependence of the nucleation rate. We find that, under these circumstances, the reaction order of spontaneous nucleation with respect to the free monomer does no longer relate to the overall physical size of the nucleating aggregate but rather to the portion of the aggregate that actively participates in the conformational conversion. Our results thus provide a novel interpretation of the common kinetic descriptors of protein filament formation, including the reaction order of the nucleation step or the scaling exponent of lag times, and put into perspective current theoretical descriptions of protein aggregation.



Amyloidogenic Proteins, Computer Simulation, Crystallization, Kinetics, Models, Chemical, Monte Carlo Method, Polymerization, Protein Conformation, Protein Multimerization, Proteins, Thermodynamics

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Journal of Chemical Physics

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American Institute of Physics
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/J002119/1)
We acknowledge support from the Human Frontier Science Program and Emmanuel College (A.Š.), St John’s and Peterhouse Colleges (T.C.T.M.), the Swiss National Science Foundation (T.C.T.M.), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (T.P.J.K.), the Frances and Augustus Newman Foundation (T.P.J.K.), the European Research Council (T.C.T.M., T.P.J.K., and D.F.), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (D.F.).