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J Mol Graph Model. 2010 Aug 24;29(1):2-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jmgm.2010.03.011. Epub 2010 Apr 4.

Temperature-induced unfolding of epidermal growth factor (EGF): insight from molecular dynamics simulation.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Thermal disruption of protein structure and function is a potentially powerful therapeutic vehicle. With the emerging nanoparticle-targeting and femtosecond laser technology, it is possible to deliver heating locally to specific molecules. It is therefore important to understand how fast a protein can unfold or lose its function at high temperatures, such as near the water boiling point. In this study, the thermal damage of EGF was investigated by combining the replica exchange (136 replicas) and conventional molecular dynamics simulations. The REMD simulation was employed to rigorously explore the free-energy landscape of EGF unfolding. Interestingly, besides the native and unfolded states, we also observed a distinct molten globule (MG) state that retained substantial amount of native contacts. Based on the understanding that which the unfolding of EGF is a three-state process, we have examined the unfolding kinetics of EGF (N-->MG and MG-->D) with multiple 20-ns conventional MD simulations. The Arrhenius prefactors and activation energy barriers determined from the simulation are within the range of previously studied proteins. In contrast to the thermal damage of cells and tissues which take place on the time scale of seconds to hours at relatively low temperatures, the denaturation of proteins occur in nanoseconds when the temperature of heat bath approaches the boiling point.

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