Deciphering the glycolipid code of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's amyloid proteins allowed the creation of a universal ganglioside-binding peptide

PLoS One . 2014 Aug 20;9(8):e104751.

J. Fantini & N. Yahi - PLOS One 2014

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104751

A broad range of microbial and amyloid proteins interact with cell surface glycolipids which behave as infectivity and/or toxicity cofactors in human pathologies. Here we have deciphered the biochemical code that determines the glycolipid-binding specificity of two major amyloid proteins, Alzheimer’s β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) and Parkinson’s disease associated protein α-synuclein. We showed that both proteins interact with selected glycolipids through a common loop-shaped motif exhibiting little sequence homology. This 12-residue domain corresponded to fragments 34-45 of α-synuclein and 5-16 of Aβ. By modulating the amino acid sequence of α-synuclein at only two positions in which we introduced a pair of histidine residues found in Aβ, we created a chimeric α-synuclein/Aβ peptide with extended ganglioside-binding properties. This chimeric peptide retained the property of α-synuclein to recognize GM3, and acquired the capacity to recognize GM1 (an Aβ-inherited characteristic). Free histidine (but not tryptophan or asparagine) and Zn2+ (but not Na+) prevented this interaction, confirming the key role of His-13 and His-14 in ganglioside binding. Molecular dynamics studies suggested that the chimeric peptide recognized cholesterol-constrained conformers of GM1, including typical chalice-shaped dimers, that are representative of the condensed cholesterol-ganglioside complexes found in lipid raft domains of the plasma membrane of neural cells. Correspondingly, the peptide had a particular affinity for raft-like membranes containing both GM1 and cholesterol. The chimeric peptide also interacted with several other gangliosides, including major brain gangliosides (GM4, GD1a, GD1b, and GT1b) but not with neutral glycolipids such as GlcCer, LacCer or asialo-GM1. It could inhibit the binding of Aβ1-42 onto neural SH-SY5Y cells and did not induce toxicity in these cells. In conclusion, deciphering the glycolipid code of amyloid proteins allowed us to create a universal ganglioside-binding peptide of only 12-residues with potential therapeutic applications in infectious and neurodegenerative diseases that involve cell surface gangliosides as receptors.