Barrier-limited, microsecond folding of a stable protein measured with hydrogen exchange: Implications for downhill folding

W. Kevin Meisner, Tobin R. Sosnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations

Abstract

Folding experiments are conducted to test whether a covalently cross-linked coiled-coil folds so quickly that the process is no longer limited by a free-energy barrier. This protein is very stable and topologically simple, needing merely to "zipper up," while having an extrapolated folding rate of kf = 2 × 105 s-1. These properties make it likely to attain the elusive "downhill folding" limit, at which a series of intermediates can be characterized. To measure the ultra-fast kinetics in the absence of denaturant, we apply NMR and hydrogen-exchange methods. The stability and its denaturant dependence for the hydrogen bonds in the central part of protein equal the values calculated for whole-molecule unfolding. Likewise, their closing and opening rates indicate that these hydrogen bonds are broken and reformed in a single cooperative event representing the folding transition from the fully unfolded state to the native state. Additionally, closing rates for these hydrogen bonds agree with the extrapolated barrier-limited folding rate observed near the melting transition. Therefore, even in the absence of denaturant, where ΔGeq ≈ -6 kcal-mol-1 (1 cal = 4.18 J) and τf ≈ 6 μs, folding remains cooperative and barrier-limited. Given that this prime candidate for downhill folding fails to do so, we propose that protein folding will remain barrier-limited for proteins that fold cooperatively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15639-15644
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume101
Issue number44
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2 2004

Keywords

  • Coiled-coil
  • EX1
  • Protein folding
  • Stretched exponential

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