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J Mol Biol. 2005 May 27;349(1):205-21. Epub 2005 Apr 7.

Extending the folding nucleus of ubiquitin with an independently folding beta-hairpin finger: hurdles to rapid folding arising from the stabilisation of local interactions.

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  • 1Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK.


The N-terminal beta-hairpin sequence of ubiquitin has been implicated as a folding nucleation site. To extend and stabilise the ubiquitin folding nucleus, we have inserted an autonomously folding 14-residue peptide sequence beta4 which in isolation forms a highly populated beta-hairpin (>70%) stabilised by local interactions. NMR structural analysis of the ubiquitin mutant (Ubeta4) shows that the hairpin finger is fully structured and stabilises ubiquitin by approximately 8kJmol(-1). Protein engineering and kinetic (phi(F)-value) analysis of a series of Ubeta4 mutants shows that the hairpin extension of Ubeta4 is also significantly populated in the transition state (phi(F)-values >0.7) and has the effect of templating the formation of native contacts in the folding nucleus of ubiquitin. However, at low denaturant concentrations the chevron plot of Ubeta4 shows a small deviation from linearity (roll-over effect), indicative of the population of a compact collapsed state, which appears to arise from over-stabilisation of local interactions. Destabilising mutations within the native hairpin sequence and within the engineered hairpin extension, but not elsewhere, eliminate this non-linearity and restore apparent two-state behaviour. The pitfall to stabilising local interactions is to present hurdles to the rapid and efficient folding of small proteins down a smooth folding funnel by trapping partially folded or misfolded states that must unfold or rearrange before refolding.

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