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Biochemistry. 2006 Jun 6;45(22):6940-6.

NMR characterization of a peptide model provides evidence for significant structure in the unfolded state of the villin headpiece helical subdomain.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York 11790-3400, USA.


The villin headpiece subdomain (HP36) is the smallest naturally occurring protein that folds cooperatively. The protein folds on a microsecond time scale. Its small size and very rapid folding have made it a popular target for biophysical studies of protein folding. Temperature-dependent one-dimensional (1D) NMR studies of the full-length protein together with CD and 1D NMR studies of the 21-residue peptide fragment (HP21) derived from HP36 have shown that there is significant structure in the unfolded state of HP36 and have demonstrated that HP21 is a good model of these interactions. Here, we characterized the model peptide HP21 in detail by two-dimensional NMR. Strongly upfield shifted C(alpha) protons, the magnitude of the 3J(NH,alpha) coupling constants, and the pattern of backbone-backbone and backbone-side chain NOEs indicate that the ensemble of structures populated by HP21 contains alpha-helical structure and native as well as non-native hydrophobic contacts. The hydrogen-bonded secondary structure inferred from the NOEs is, however, not sufficient to confer significant protection against amide H-D exchange. These studies indicate that there is significant secondary structure and hydrophobic clustering in the unfolded state of HP36. The implications for the folding of HP36 are discussed.

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