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J Mol Biol. 2005 Mar 25;347(2):355-66. Epub 2005 Jan 28.

Comprehensive analysis of protein folding activation thermodynamics reveals a universal behavior violated by kinetically stable proteases.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Alpha-lytic protease (alpha LP) and Streptomyces griseus protease B (SGPB) are two extracellular serine proteases whose folding is absolutely dependent on the existence of their companion pro regions. Moreover, the native states of these proteins are, at best, marginally stable, with the apparent stability resulting from being kinetically trapped in the native state by large barriers to unfolding. Here, in an effort to understand the physical properties that distinguish kinetically and thermodynamically stable proteins, we study the temperature-dependences of the folding and unfolding kinetics of alpha LP and SGPB without their pro regions, and compare their behavior to a comprehensive set of other proteins. For the folding activation thermodynamics, we find some remarkable universal behaviors in the thermodynamically stable proteins that are violated dramatically by alpha LP. Despite significant variations in deltaC(P,F)++, the maximal folding speed occurs within the narrow biological temperature range for all proteins, except for alpha LP, with its maximal folding speed shifted lower by 200 K. This implies evolutionary pressures on folding speed for typical proteins, but not for alpha LP. In addition, the folding free energy barrier in the biological temperature range for most proteins is predominantly enthalpic, but purely entropic for alpha LP. The unfolding of alpha LP and SGPB is distinguished by three properties: a remarkably large deltaC(P,U)++, a very high deltaG(U)++, and a maximum deltaG(u)++ at the optimal growth temperature for the organism. While other proteins display each of these traits to some approximation, the simultaneous optimization of all three occurs only in the kinetically stable proteins, and appears to be required to maximize their unfolding cooperativity, by suppressing local unfolding events, and slowing the rate of global unfolding. Together, these properties extend the lifetime of these enzymes in the highly proteolytic extracellular environment. Attaining such functional properties seems possible only through the gross perturbation of the folding thermodynamics, which in turn has required the co-evolution of pro regions as folding catalysts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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