Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by oxidative stress and protein aggregation. Both toxic phenomena are mitigated by DJ-1, a homodimeric protein with proposed antioxidant and chaperone activities. The neuroprotective function of DJ-1 is modulated by oxidation of cysteine 106, a residue that may act as an oxidative stress sensor. Loss-of-function mutations in the DJ-1 gene have been linked to early onset PD, and age-dependent over-oxidation of DJ-1 is thought to contribute to sporadic PD. The familial mutant L166P fails to dimerize and is rapidly degraded, suggesting that protein destabilization accounts for the dysfunction of this mutant. In this study, we investigated how the structure and stability of DJ-1 are impacted by two other pathogenic substitutions (M26I and E64D) and by over-oxidation with H 2O2. Whereas the recombinant wild-type protein and E64D both adopted a stable dimeric structure, M26I showed an increased propensity to aggregate and decreased secondary structure. Similar to M26I, over-oxidized wild-type DJ-1 exhibited reduced secondary structure, and this property correlated with destabilization of the dimer. The engineered mutant C106A had a greater thermodynamic stability and was more resistant to oxidation-induced destabilization than the wild-type protein. These results suggest that (i) the M26I substitution and over-oxidation destabilize dimeric DJ-1, and (ii) the oxidation of cysteine 106 contributes to DJ-1 destabilization. Our findings provide a structural basis for DJ-1 dysfunction in familial and sporadic PD, and they suggest that dimer stabilization is a reasonable therapeutic strategy to treat both forms of this disorder.
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