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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):12968-73. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1201504109. Epub 2012 Jul 20.

Direct observation of kinetic traps associated with structural transformations leading to multiple pathways of S-layer assembly.

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  • 1Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


The concept of a folding funnel with kinetic traps describes folding of individual proteins. Using in situ Atomic Force Microscopy to investigate S-layer assembly on mica, we show this concept is equally valid during self-assembly of proteins into extended matrices. We find the S-layer-on-mica system possesses a kinetic trap associated with conformational differences between a long-lived transient state and the final stable state. Both ordered tetrameric states emerge from clusters of the monomer phase, however, they then track along two different pathways. One leads directly to the final low-energy state and the other to the kinetic trap. Over time, the trapped state transforms into the stable state. By analyzing the time and temperature dependencies of formation and transformation we find that the energy barriers to formation of the two states differ by only 0.7 kT, but once the high-energy state forms, the barrier to transformation to the low-energy state is 25 kT. Thus the transient state exhibits the characteristics of a kinetic trap in a folding funnel.

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