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Protein Sci. 2001 Oct;10(10):2017-27.

Structural properties of trimers and tetramers of ribonuclease A.

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Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche e della Visione, Sezione di Chimica Biologica, Università di Verona, Verona, Italy.


Ribonuclease A aggregates (dimers, trimers, tetramers, pentamers) can be obtained by lyophilization from 40% acetic acid solutions. Each aggregate forms two conformational isomers distinguishable by different basic net charge. The crystal structure of the two dimers has recently been determined; the structure of the higher oligomers is unknown. The results of the study of the two trimeric and tetrameric conformers can be summarized as follows: (1) RNase A trimers and tetramers form by a 3D domain-swapping mechanism. N-terminal and C-terminal types of domain swapping could coexist; (2) the secondary structures of the trimeric and tetrameric conformers do not show significant differences if compared with the secondary structure of monomeric RNase A or its two dimers; (3) a different exposure of tyrosine residues indicates that in the aggregates they have different microenvironments; (4) the two trimeric and tetrameric conformers show different susceptibility to digestion by subtilisin; (5) dimers, trimers, and tetramers of RNase A show unwinding activity on double-helical poly(dA-dT) x poly(dA-dT), that increases as a function of the size of the oligomers; (6) the less basic conformers are more stable than the more basic ones, and a low concentration in solution of trimers and tetramers favors their stability, which is definitely increased by the interaction of the aggregates with poly(dA-dT) x poly(dA-dT); (7) the products of thermal dissociation of the two trimers indicate that their structures could be remarkably different. The dissociation products of the two tetramers allow the proposal of two models for their putative structures.

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