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Proteins. 2005 May 1;59(2):170-82.

Thermal unfolding simulations of a multimeric protein--transition state and unfolding pathways.

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  • 1Department of Biosciences at Novum, Centre for Structural Biochemistry, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden.


The folding of an oligomeric protein poses an extra challenge to the folding problem because the protein not only has to fold correctly; it has to avoid nonproductive aggregation. We have carried out over 100 molecular dynamics simulations using an implicit solvation model at different temperatures to study the unfolding of one of the smallest known tetramers, p53 tetramerization domain (p53tet). We found that unfolding started with disruption of the native tetrameric hydrophobic core. The transition state for the tetramer to dimer transition was characterized as a diverse ensemble of different structures using Phi value analysis in quantitative agreement with experimental data. Despite the diversity, the ensemble was still native-like with common features such as partially exposed tetramer hydrophobic core and shifts in the dimer-dimer arrangements. After passing the transition state, the secondary and tertiary structures continued to unfold until the primary dimers broke free. The free dimer had little secondary structure left and the final free monomers were random-coil like. Both the transition states and the unfolding pathways from these trajectories were very diverse, in agreement with the new view of protein folding. The multiple simulations showed that the folding of p53tet is a mixture of the framework and nucleation-condensation mechanisms and the folding is coupled to the complex formation. We have also calculated the entropy and effective energy for the different states along the unfolding pathway and found that the tetramerization is stabilized by hydrophobic interactions.

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