Nucleation of β-rich oligomers and β-barrels in the early aggregation of human islet amyloid polypeptide

Yunxiang Sun, Aleksandr Kakinen, Yanting Xing, Emily H Pilkington, Thomas P Davis, Pu Chun Ke , Feng Ding

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The self-assembly of human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP) into β-sheet rich amyloid aggregates is associated with pancreatic β-cell death in type 2 diabetes (T2D). Prior experimental studies of hIAPP aggregation reported the early accumulation of α-helical intermediates before the rapid conversion into β-sheet rich amyloid fibrils, as also corroborated by our experimental characterizations with transmission electron microscopy and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Although increasing evidence suggests that small oligomers populating early hIAPP aggregation play crucial roles in cytotoxicity, structures of these oligomer intermediates and their conformational conversions remain unknown, hindering our understanding of T2D disease mechanism and therapeutic design targeting these early aggregation species. We further applied large-scale discrete molecule dynamics simulations to investigate the oligomerization of full-length hIAPP, employing multiple molecular systems of increasing number of peptides. We found that the oligomerization process was dynamic, involving frequent inter-oligomeric exchanges. On average, oligomers had more α-helices than β-sheets, consistent with ensemble-based experimental measurements. However, in ~4–6% independent simulations, β-rich oligomers expected as the fibrillization intermediates were observed, especially in the pentamer and hexamer simulations. These β-rich oligomers could adopt β-barrel conformations, recently postulated to be the toxic oligomer species but only observed computationally in the aggregates of short amyloid protein fragments. Free-energy analysis revealed high energies of these β-rich oligomers, supporting the nucleated conformational changes of oligomers in amyloid aggregation. β-barrel oligomers of full-length hIAPP with well-defined three-dimensional structures may play an important pathological role in T2D etiology and may be a therapeutic target for the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-444
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Amyloid aggregation
  • Oligomerization
  • β-Barrel oligomer
  • Nucleation
  • Discrete molecular dynamics simulations

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