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Biochemistry. 2000 Sep 26;39(38):11667-76.

SecA folds via a dimeric intermediate.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and National Center for Analytical Ultracentrifugation, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-3125, USA.


Though many proteins in the cell are large and multimeric, their folding has not been extensively studied. We have chosen SecA as a folding model because it is a large, homodimeric protein (monomer molecular mass of 102 kDa) with multiple folding domains. SecA is the ATPase for the Sec-dependent preprotein translocase of many bacteria. SecA is a soluble protein that can penetrate into the membrane during preprotein translocation. Because SecA may partially unfold prior to its insertion into the membrane, studies of its stability and folding pathway are important for understanding how it functions in vivo. Kinetic folding transitions in the presence of urea were monitored using circular dichroism and tryptophan fluorescence, while equilibrium folding transitions were monitored using the same techniques as well as a fluorescent ATP analogue. The reversible equilibrium folding transition exhibited a plateau, indicating the presence of an intermediate. Based on the data presented here, we propose a three-state model, N(2) if I(2) if 2U, where the native protein unfolds to a dimeric intermediate which then dissociates into two unfolded monomers. The SecA dimer was determined to have an overall stability (DeltaG) of -22.5 kcal/mol. We also investigated the stability of SecA using analytical ultracentrifugation equilibrium and velocity sedimentation, which again indicated that native or refolded SecA was a stable dimer. The rate-limiting step in the folding pathway was conversion of the dimeric intermediate to the native dimer. Unfolding of native, dimeric SecA was slow with a relaxation time in H(2)O of 3.3 x 10(4) s. Since SecA is a stable dimer, dissociation to monomeric subunits during translocation is unlikely.

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