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J Mol Biol. 2002 Oct 18;323(2):309-25.

Parallel channels and rate-limiting steps in complex protein folding reactions: prolyl isomerization and the alpha subunit of Trp synthase, a TIM barrel protein.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


A kinetic folding mechanism for the alpha subunit of tryptophan synthase (alphaTS) from Escherichia coli, involving four parallel channels with multiple native, intermediate and unfolded forms, has recently been proposed. The hypothesis that cis/trans isomerization of several Xaa-Pro peptide bonds is the source of the multiple folding channels was tested by measuring the sensitivity of the three rate-limiting phases (tau(1), tau(2), tau(3)) to catalysis by cyclophilin, a peptidyl-prolyl isomerase. Although the absence of catalysis for the tau(1) (fast) phase leaves its assignment ambiguous, our previous mutational analysis demonstrated its connection to the unique cis peptide bond preceding proline 28. The acceleration of the tau(2) (medium) and tau(3) (slow) refolding phases by cyclophilin demonstrated that cis/trans prolyl isomerization is also the source of these phases. A collection of proline mutants, which covered all of the remaining 18 trans proline residues of alphaTS, was constructed to obtain specific assignments for these phases. Almost all of the mutant proteins retained the complex equilibrium and kinetic folding properties of wild-type alphaTS; only the P217A, P217G and P261A mutations caused significant changes in the equilibrium free energy surface. Both the P78A and P96A mutations selectively eliminated the tau(1) folding phase, while the P217M and P261A mutations eliminated the tau(2) and tau(3) folding phases, respectively. The redundant assignment of the tau(1) phase to Pro28, Pro78 and Pro96 may reflect their mutual interactions in non-random structure in the unfolded state. The non-native cis isomers for Pro217 and Pro261 may destabilize an autonomous C-terminal folding unit, thereby giving rise to kinetically distinct unfolded forms. The nature of the preceding amino acid, the solvent exposure, or the participation in specific elements of secondary structure in the native state, in general, are not determinative of the proline residues whose isomerization reactions can limit folding.

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