The L55P transthyretin (TTR) familial amyloid polyneuropathy-associated variant is distinct from the other TTR variants studied to date and the wild-type protein in that the L55P tetramer can dissociate to the monomeric amyloidogenic intermediate and form fibril precursors under physiological conditions (pH 7.0, 37 degrees C). The activation barrier associated with L55P-TTR tetramer dissociation is lower than the barrier for wild-type transthyretin dissociation, which does not form fibrils under physiological conditions. The L55P-TTR tetramer is also very sensitive to acidic conditions, readily dissociating to form the monomeric amyloidogenic intermediate between pH 5.5-5.0 where the wild-type TTR adopts a nonamyloidogenic tetrameric structure. The formation of the L55P monomeric amyloidogenic intermediate involves subtle tertiary structural changes within the beta-sheet rich subunit as discerned from Trp fluorescence, circular dichroism analysis, and ANS binding studies. The assembly of the L55P-TTR amyloidogenic intermediate at physiological pH (pH 7.5) affords protofilaments that elongate with time. TEM studies suggest that the entropic barrier associated with filament assembly (amyloid fibril formation) is high in vitro, amyloid being defined by the laterally assembled four filament structure observed by Blake upon isolation of "fibrils" from the eye of a FAP patient. The L55P-TTR protofilaments formed in vitro bind Congo red and thioflavin T (albeit more weakly than the fibrils produced at acidic pH), suggesting that the structure observed probably represents an amyloid precursor. The structural continuum from misfolded monomer through protofilaments, filaments, and ultimately fibrils must be considered as a possible source of pathology associated with these diseases.