The structure and function of the γ-secretase proteases are of great interest because of their crucial roles in cellular and disease processes. We established a novel purification protocol for the γ-secretase complex that involves a conformation- and complexspecific nanobody, yielding highly pure and active enzyme. Using single particle electron microscopy, we analyzed the γ-secretase structure and its conformational variability. Under steady-state conditions, the complex adopts three major conformations, which differ in overall compactness and relative position of the nicastrin ectodomain. Occupancy of the active or substrate-binding sites by inhibitors differentially stabilizes subpopulations of particles with compact conformations, whereas a mutation linked to familial Alzheimer disease results in enrichment of extended-conformation complexes with increased flexibility. Our study presents the γ-secretase complex as a dynamic population of interconverting conformations, involving rearrangements at the nanometer scale and a high level of structural interdependence between subunits. The fact that protease inhibition or clinical mutations, which affect amyloid β (Aβ) generation, enrich for particular subpopulations of conformers indicates the functional relevance of the observed dynamic changes, which are likely to be instrumental for highly allosteric behavior of the enzyme.
- Alzheimer disease
- Conformational landscape
- Regulated intramembrane proteolysis
- Single particle electron microscopy