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Biochemistry. 1996 Apr 30;35(17):5538-49.

Side chain packing of the N- and C-terminal helices plays a critical role in the kinetics of cytochrome c folding.

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  • 1Institute for Cancer Research, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111, USA.

Abstract

The pairing of two alpha-helices at opposite ends of the chain is a highly conserved structural motif found throughout the cytochrome c family of proteins. It has previously been shown that association of the N- and C-terminal helices is a critical early event in the folding process of horse cytochrome c and is responsible for the formation of a partially folded intermediate (INC). In order to gain further insight into the structural and energetic basis of helix packing interactions and their role in folding, we prepared a series of horse cytochrome c variants in which Leu94, a critical residue at the helix contact site, was replaced by Ile, Val, or Ala. The Ile and Val substitutions resulted in minor changes in the stability of the native state, indicating that conservative mutations can be accommodated at the helix interface with only minor structural perturbations. In contrast, the L94A mutation resulted in a 3.5 kcal/mol decrease in unfolding free energy, suggesting that the smaller Ala side chain causes severe packing defects at the helix interface. The effect of these mutations on the kinetics of folding and unfolding as a function of denaturant concentration was studied by a systematic series of stopped-flow fluorescence measurements. The proteins with Leu, Ile, or Val at position 94 exhibit a major unresolved fluorescence change during the 1-ms dead time of the stopped-flow refolding measurements, while this effect is less pronounced in L94A, indicating that the rapid formation of a compact state (IC) with largely quenched Trp59 fluorescence is favored by a large hydrophobic side chain at the helix-helix interface. Despite their small effects on overall stability, the L94I and L94V mutations result in a substantial reduction in the relative amplitude of the fastest observable folding phase (formation of INC) consistent with a strong decrease in the population of INC compared to the wild-type protein. This effect is amplified in the case of the destabilizing L94A variant, which exhibits slower folding kinetics and negligible accumulation of INC. Whereas the presence of a large hydrophobic side chain at position 94 is sufficient for the stabilization of IC, the subsequent partially folded intermediate, INC, is stabilized by specific interactions that are responsible for the proper packing of the two alpha-helices.

PMID:
8611545
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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