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C R Biol. 2004 May;327(5):431-43.

Analysis of fragments induced by simulated lattice protein folding.

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Equipe 'Systèmes moléculaires et Biologie structurale', LMCP, université Paris-6, CNRS UMR 7590, case 115, 75252 Paris 05, France.


The folding process of a set of 42 proteins, representative of the various folds, has been simulated by means of a Monte Carlo method on a discrete lattice, using two different potentials of mean force. Multiple compact fragments of contiguous residues are formed in the simulation, stable in composition, but not in geometry. During time, the number of fragments decreases until one final compact globular state is reached. We focused on the early steps of the folding in order to evidence the maximum number of fragments, provided they are sufficiently stable in sequence. A correlation has been established between these proto fragments and regular secondary-structure elements, whatever their nature, alpha helices or beta strands. Quantitatively, this is revealed by an overall mean one-residue quality factor of nearly 60%, which is better for proteins mainly composed of alpha helices. The correspondence between the number of fragments and the number of secondary-structure elements is of 77% and the regions separating successive fragments are mainly located in loops. Besides, hydrophobic clusters deduced from HCA correspond to fragments with an equivalent accuracy. These results suggest that folding pathways do not contain structurally static intermediate. However, since the beginning of folding, most residues that will later form one given secondary structure are kept close in space by being involved in the same fragment. This aggregation may be a way to accelerate the formation of the native state and enforces the key role played by hydrophobic residues in the formation of the fragments, thus in the folding process itself.

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