The formation of fibrillar amyloid is most often associated with protein conformational disorders such as prion diseases, Alzheimer disease and Huntington disease. Interestingly, however, an increasing number of studies suggest that amyloid structures can sometimes play a functional role in normal biology. Several proteins form self-propagating amyloids called prions in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These unique elements operate by creating a reversible, epigenetic change in phenotype. While the function of the non-prion conformation of the Rnq1 protein is unclear, the prion form, [RNQ+], acts to facilitate the de novo formation of other prions to influence cellular phenotypes. The [RNQ+] prion itself does not adversely affect the growth of yeast, but the overexpression of Rnq1p can form toxic aggregated structures that are not necessarily prions. The [RNQ +] prion is also involved in dictating the aggregation and toxicity of polyglutamine proteins ectopically expressed in yeast. Thus, the [RNQ +] prion provides a tractable model that has the potential to reveal significant insight into the factors that dictate how amyloid structures are initiated and propagated in both physiological and pathological contexts.
- Functional amyloid
- Toxic amyloid