A combined total of more than 600.0 ns molecular dynamics simulations with explicit solvent have been carried on systems containing either four peptides or a single peptide to investigate the early-stage aggregation process of an amyloidogenic hexapeptide, NFGAIL (residues 22-27 of the human islet amyloid polypeptide). Direct observation of the aggregation process was made possible by placing four peptides in a box of water with an effective concentration of 158 mg/ml to enhance the rate of aggregation. Partially ordered oligomers containing multistrand β-sheets were observed which could be the precursory structures leading to the amyloid-forming embryonic nuclei. Comparative simulations on a single peptide suggested that the combined effect of higher peptide concentration and periodic boundary condition promoted compact monomers and the short-range interpeptide interactions favored the β-extended conformation. Of particular interest was the persistent fluctuation of the size of the aggregates throughout the simulations, suggesting that dissociation of peptides from the disordered aggregates was an obligatory step toward the formation of ordered oligomers. Although 95% of peptides formed oligomers and 44% were in β-extended conformations, only 16% of peptides formed multistrand β-sheets. The disordered aggregates were mainly stabilized by hydrophobic interactions while cross-strand main-chain hydrogen bonds manifested the ordered oligomers. The transition to the β-extended conformation was mildly cooperative due to short-range interactions between β-extended peptides. Taken together, we propose that the role of hydrophobic interaction in the early stage of aggregation is to promote disordered aggregates and disfavor the formation of ordered nuclei and dissociation of the disordered oligomers could be the rate-limiting step at the initiation stage.
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