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Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2007 Feb;17(1):3-14. Epub 2007 Jan 23.

Atomic-level characterization of disordered protein ensembles.

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  • 1Program in Molecular Structure and Function, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8 and Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A8, Canada.


The roles of unfolded states of proteins in normal folding and in diseases involving aggregation, as well as the prevalence and regulatory functions of intrinsically disordered proteins, have become increasingly recognized. The structural representation of these disordered states as ensembles of interconverting conformers can therefore provide critical insights. Experimental methods can be used to probe ensemble-averaged structural properties of disordered states and computational approaches generate representative ensembles of conformers using experimental restraints. In particular, NMR and small-angle X-ray scattering provide quantitative data that can readily be incorporated into calculations. These techniques have gleaned structural information about denatured, unfolded and intrinsically disordered proteins. The use of experimental data in different computational approaches, including ensemble molecular dynamics simulations and algorithms that assign populations to pregenerated conformers, has highlighted the presence of both local and long-range structure, and the occurrence of native-like and non-native interactions in unfolded and denatured states. Analysis of the resulting ensembles has suggested important implications of this fluctuating structure for folding, aggregation and binding.

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