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J Mol Biol. 2000 Nov 17;304(1):99-115.

Differential stabilization of two hydrophobic cores in the transition state of the villin 14T folding reaction.

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Department of Chemistry, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


We report the distribution of hydrophobic core contacts during the folding reaction transition state for villin 14T, a small 126-residue protein domain. The solution structure of villin 14T contains a central beta-sheet with two flanking hydrophobic cores; transition states for this protein topology have not been previously studied. Villin 14T has no disulfide bonds or cis-proline residues in its native state; it folds reversibly, and in an apparently two-state manner under some conditions. To map the hydrophobic core contacts in the transition state, 27 point mutations were generated at positions spread throughout the two hydrophobic cores. After each point mutation, comparison of the change in folding kinetics with the equilibrium destabilization indicates whether the site of mutation is stabilized in the transition state. The results show that the folding nucleus, or the sub-region with the strongest transition state contacts, is located in one of the two hydrophobic cores (the predominantly aliphatic core). The other hydrophobic core, which is mostly aromatic, makes much weaker contacts in the transition state. This work is the first transition state mapping for a protein with multiple major hydrophobic cores in a single folding unit; the hydrophobic cores cannot be separated into individual folding subdomains. The stabilization of only one hydrophobic core in the transition state illustrates that hydrophobic core formation is not intrinsically capable of nucleating folding, but must also involve the right specific interactions or topological factors in order to be kinetically important.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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