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Prion dynamics and the quest for the genetic determinant in protein-only inheritance.

Abstract

According to the prion hypothesis, proteins may act in atypical roles as genetic elements of infectivity and inheritance by undergoing self-replicating changes in physical state. While the preponderance of evidence strongly supports this concept particularly in fungi, the detailed mechanisms by which distinct protein forms specify unique phenotypes are emerging concepts. A particularly active area of investigation is the molecular nature of the heritable species, which has been probed through genetic, biochemical, and cell biological experimentation as well as by mathematical modeling. Here, we suggest that these studies are converging to implicate small aggregates composed of prion-state conformers as the transmissible genetic determinants of protein-based phenotypes.

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