The cytotoxic Staphylococcus aureus PSMα3 reveals a cross-α amyloid-like fibril

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Science  24 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6327, pp. 831-833
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4901

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What's in a fold?

Bacterially secreted peptides known as PSMs (phenol-soluble modulins) stimulate inflammatory responses, lyse human cells, and contribute to biofilm structuring. PSMα3 is a virulent 22-residue amyloid peptide secreted by Staphylococcus aureus. Tayeb-Fligelman et al. present a high-resolution structure encompassing the full length of the amyloid's sequence. This structure reveals an unexpected departure from the common amyloid cross-β folded architecture. Instead, PSMα3 forms amphipathic α-helices that are folded to stack perpendicular to the fibril axis into sheets. This unusual cross-α structure was important for fibril toxicity.

Science, this issue p. 831


Amyloids are ordered protein aggregates, found in all kingdoms of life, and are involved in aggregation diseases as well as in physiological activities. In microbes, functional amyloids are often key virulence determinants, yet the structural basis for their activity remains elusive. We determined the fibril structure and function of the highly toxic, 22-residue phenol-soluble modulin α3 (PSMα3) peptide secreted by Staphylococcus aureus. PSMα3 formed elongated fibrils that shared the morphological and tinctorial characteristics of canonical cross-β eukaryotic amyloids. However, the crystal structure of full-length PSMα3, solved de novo at 1.45 angstrom resolution, revealed a distinctive “cross-α” amyloid-like architecture, in which amphipathic α helices stacked perpendicular to the fibril axis into tight self-associating sheets. The cross-α fibrillation of PSMα3 facilitated cytotoxicity, suggesting that this assembly mode underlies function in S. aureus.

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