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J Mol Biol. 1992 Aug 5;226(3):795-817.

Folding of peptide fragments comprising the complete sequence of proteins. Models for initiation of protein folding. I. Myohemerythrin.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037.


In an attempt to delineate potential folding initiation sites for different protein structural motifs, we have synthesized series of peptides that span the entire length of the polypeptide chain of two proteins, and examined their conformational preferences in aqueous solution using proton nuclear magnetic resonance and circular dichroism spectroscopy. We describe here the behavior of peptides derived from a simple four-helix bundle protein, myohemerythrin. The peptides correspond to the sequences of the four long helices (the A, B, C and D helices), the N- and C-terminal loops and the connecting sequences between the helices. The peptides corresponding to the helices of the folded protein all exhibit preferences for helix-like conformations in solution. The conformational ensembles of the A- and D-helix peptides contain ordered helical forms, as shown by extensive series of medium-range nuclear Overhauser effect connectivities, while the B- and C-helix peptides exhibit conformational preferences for nascent helix. All four peptides adopt ordered helical conformations in mixtures of trifluoroethanol and water. The terminal and interconnecting loop peptides also appear to contain appreciable populations of conformers with backbone phi and psi angles in the alpha-region and include highly populated hydrophobic cluster and/or turn conformations in some cases. Trifluoroethanol is unable to drive these peptides towards helical conformations. Overall, the peptide fragments of myohemerythrin have a marked preference towards secondary structure formation in aqueous solution. In contrast, peptide fragments derived from the beta-sandwich protein plastocyanin are relatively devoid of secondary structure in aqueous solution (see accompanying paper). These results suggest that the two different protein structural motifs may require different propensities for formation of local elements of secondary structure to initiate folding, and that there is a prepartitioning of conformational space determined by the local amino acid sequence that is different for the helical and beta-sandwich structural motifs.

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