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Biophys J. 2005 Jul;89(1):488-505. Epub 2005 Apr 15.

Equilibrium and kinetic folding pathways of a TIM barrel with a funneled energy landscape.

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The Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0374, USA.


The role of native contact topology in the folding of a TIM barrel model based on the alpha-subunit of tryptophan synthase (alphaTS) from Salmonella typhimurium (Protein Data Bank structure 1BKS) was studied using both equilibrium and kinetic simulations. Equilibrium simulations of alphaTS reveal the population of two intermediate ensembles, I1 and I2, during unfolding/refolding at the folding temperature, Tf = 335 K. Equilibrium intermediate I1 demonstrates discrete structure in regions alpha0-beta6 whereas intermediate I2 is a loose ensemble of states with N-terminal structure varying from at least beta1-beta3 (denoted I2A) to alpha0-beta4 at most (denoted I2B). The structures of I1 and I2 match well with the two intermediate states detected in equilibrium folding experiments of Escherichia coli alphaTS. Kinetic folding simulations of alphaTS reveal the sequential population of four intermediate ensembles, I120Q, I200Q, I300Q, and I360Q, during refolding. Kinetic intermediates I120Q, I200Q, and I300Q are highly similar to equilibrium alphaTS intermediates I2A, I2B, and I1, respectively, consistent with kinetic experiments on alphaTS from E. coli. A small population (approximately 10%) of kinetic trajectories are trapped in the I120Q intermediate ensemble and require a slow and complete unfolding step to properly refold. Both the on-pathway and off-pathway I120Q intermediates show structure in beta1-beta3, which is also strikingly consistent with kinetic folding experiments of alphaTS. In the off-pathway intermediate I(120Q), helix alpha2 is wrapped in a nonnative chiral arrangement around strand beta3, sterically preventing the subsequent folding step between beta3 and beta4. These results demonstrate the success of combining kinetic and equilibrium simulations of minimalist protein models to explore TIM barrel folding and the folding of other large proteins.

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