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How Fluorescent Tags Modify Oligomer Size Distributions of the Alzheimer Peptide

Wägele, Jana; De Sio, Silvia; Voigt, Bruno; Balbach, Jochen; Ott, Maria

By 12 March 2019No Comments

Biophysical Journal, 2019, vol 116, 2, pp. 227-238



Within the complex aggregation process of amyloidogenic peptides into fibrils, early stages of aggregation play a central role and reveal fundamental properties of the underlying mechanism of aggregation. In particular, low-molecular-weight aggregates of the Alzheimer amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) have attracted increasing interest because of their role in cytotoxicity and neuronal apoptosis, typical of aggregation-related diseases. One of the main techniques used to characterize oligomeric stages is fluorescence spectroscopy. To this end, Aβ peptide chains are functionalized with fluorescent tags, often covalently bound to the disordered N-terminus region of the peptide, with the assumption that functionalization and presence of the fluorophore will not modify the process of self-assembly nor the final fibrillar structure. In this investigation, we systematically study the effects of four of the most commonly used fluorophores on the aggregation of Aβ (1–40). Time-resolved and single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy have been chosen to monitor the oligomer populations at different fibrillation times, and transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy and x-ray diffraction to investigate the structure of mature fibrils. Although the structures of the fibrils were only slightly affected by the fluorescent tags, the sizes of the detected oligomeric species varied significantly depending on the chosen fluorophore. In particular, we relate the presence of high-molecular-weight oligomers of Aβ (1–40) (as found for the fluorophores HiLyte 647 and Atto 655) to net-attractive, hydrophobic fluorophore-peptide interactions, which are weak in the case of HiLyte 488 and Atto 488. The latter leads for Aβ (1–40) to low-molecular-weight oligomers only, which is in contrast to Aβ (1–42). The disease-relevant peptide Aβ (1–42) displays high-molecular-weight oligomers even in the absence of significant attractive fluorophore-peptide interactions. Hence, our findings reveal the potentially high impact of the properties of fluorophores on transient aggregates, which needs to be included in the interpretation of experimental data of oligomers of fluorescently labeled peptides.

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