Conformational transition from the normal cellular form of prion protein (PrPC) to the pathogenic "scrapie" form (PrPSc) is considered to be a key event in the occurrence of prion disease. Additionally, the H2 C-terminus is widely considered to be a vital site for PrP conformational transition, which can be used as an important region to explore the potential mechanism of PrP misfolding. Therefore, to study the misfolding mechanism of PrP, 500 ns wellered metadynamics simulations were performed by focusing on the H2 C-terminus of PrP. For comparison, three systems were designed in total, including PrP in neutral and acidic conditions, as well as H187R mutant. The resulting free energy surfaces (FESs) obtained from metadynamics simulations reveal that acidic conditions and H187R mutation can facilitate PrP misfolding by decreasing free energy barriers for conformational transition and forming energy stable conformational states. Further analyses aimed at H2 C-terminus show that due to the increase of positive charge on residue 187 in both acidic and H187R systems, the electrostatic repulsion of residue 187 and R136/R156 increases greatly, which disrupts the electrostatic interaction network around H2 C-terminus and exposes the hydrophobic core to the solvent. Taken together, acidic conditions and H187R mutation can accelerate PrP misfolding mainly by forming more energetically stable metastable conformations with lower free energy barriers, and electrostatic network disruption involving residue 187 drives the initial misfolding of H2 C-terminus. This study provides quantitative insight into the related function of the H2 C-terminus in the PrP misfolding process, which may guide H2 C-terminus mediated drug design in the future.
- H2 C-terminus
- conformational transition