Mammalian Prion protein expression in yeast; a model for transmembrane insertion

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Department of Microbiology and Physiological Systems

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Microbiology | Physiology


The prion protein (PrP), a GPI-anchored glycoprotein, is inefficiently secreted by mammalian microsomes, 50% being found as transmembrane (TM) proteins with the central TM1 segment spanning the membrane. TM1 hydrophobicity is marginal for lateral membrane insertion, which is primarily driven by hydrophobic interaction between the ER translocon and substrates in transit. Most inserted TM1 has its N-terminus in the ER lumen (Ntm orientation), as expected for arrest of normal secretion. However, 20% is found in inverted Ctm orientation. These are minor species in vivo, presumably a consequence of efficient quality control. PrP mutations that increase TM1 hydrophobicity result in increased Ctm insertion, both in vitro and in mouse brain, and a strong correlation is found between CtmPrP insertion and neuropathology in transgenic mice; a copper-dependent pathogenicity mechanism is suggested. PrP fusions with a C-terminal epitope tag, when expressed in yeast cells at moderate levels, appear to interact efficiently with the translocon, providing a useful model for testing the effects of PrP mutations on TM insertion and orientation. However, secretion of PrP by the mammalian translocon requires the TRAP complex, absent in yeast, where essentially all PrP ends up as TM species, 85-90% Ntm and 10-15% Ctm. Although yeast is, therefore, an incomplete mimic of mammalian PrP trafficking, effects on Ctm insertion of mutations increasing TM1 hydrophobicity closely reflect those seen in vitro. Electrostatic substrate-translocon interactions are a major determinant of TM protein insertion orientation and the yeast model was used to investigate the role of the large negative charge difference across TM1, a likely cause of translocation delay that would favor TM insertion and Ctm orientation. An increase in DeltaCh from -5 to -7 caused a marked increase in Ctm insertion, while a decrease to -3 or -1 allowed 35 and about 65% secretion, respectively. Utility of the yeast model and the role of this charge difference in driving PrP membrane insertion are confirmed.

DOI of Published Version



Prion. 2013 Nov-Dec;7(6):477-87. Epub 2013 Oct 18. Link to article on publisher's site

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