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J Mol Biol. 1999 Nov 5;293(4):917-51.

Folding of a model three-helix bundle protein: a thermodynamic and kinetic analysis.

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Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


The kinetics and thermodynamics of an off-lattice model for a three-helix bundle protein are investigated as a function of a bias gap parameter that determines the energy difference between native and non-native contacts. A simple dihedral potential is used to introduce the tendency to form right-handed helices. For each value of the bias parameter, 100 trajectories of up to one microsecond are performed. Such statistically valid sampling of the kinetics is made possible by the use of the discrete molecular dynamics method with square-well interactions. This permits much faster simulations for off-lattice models than do continuous potentials. It is found that major folding pathways can be defined, although ensembles with considerable structural variation are involved. The large gap models generally fold faster than those with a smaller gap. For the large gap models, the kinetic intermediates are non-obligatory, while both obligatory and non-obligatory intermediates are present for small gap models. Certain large gap intermediates have a two-helix microdomain with one helix extended outward (as in domain-swapped dimers); the small gap intermediates have more diverse structures. The importance of studying the kinetic, as well as the thermodynamics, of folding for an understanding of the mechanism is discussed and the relation between kinetic and equilibrium intermediates is examined. It is found that the behavior of this model system has aspects that encompass both the "new" view and the "old" view of protein folding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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