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Biophys J. 2001 Mar;80(3):1518-23.

Pressure-jump small-angle x-ray scattering detected kinetics of staphylococcal nuclease folding.

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Department of Chemistry, Physical Chemistry I, University of Dortmund, D-44221 Dortmund, Germany.


The kinetics of chain disruption and collapse of staphylococcal nuclease after positive or negative pressure jumps was monitored by real-time small-angle x-ray scattering under pressure. We used this method to probe the overall conformation of the protein by measuring its radius of gyration and pair-distance-distribution function p(r) which are sensitive to the spatial extent and shape of the particle. At all pressures and temperatures tested, the relaxation profiles were well described by a single exponential function. No fast collapse was observed, indicating that the rate limiting step for chain collapse is the same as that for secondary and tertiary structure formation. Whereas refolding at low pressures occurred in a few seconds, at high pressures the relaxation was quite slow, approximately 1 h, due to a large positive activation volume for the rate-limiting step for chain collapse. A large increase in the system volume upon folding implies significant dehydration of the transition state and a high degree of similarity in terms of the packing density between the native and transition states in this system. This study of the time-dependence of the tertiary structure in pressure-induced folding/unfolding reactions demonstrates that novel information about the nature of protein folding transitions and transition states can be obtained from a combination of small-angle x-ray scattering using high intensity synchrotron radiation with the high pressure perturbation technique.

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