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J Mol Biol. 2006 Feb 3;355(5):1066-77. Epub 2005 Nov 10.

Multistate folding of the villin headpiece domain.

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Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11790-3400, USA.


The villin headpiece (HP67) is a 67 residue, monomeric protein derived from the C-terminal domain of villin. Wild-type HP67 (WT HP67) is the smallest fragment of villin that retains strong in vitro actin-binding activity. WT HP67 is made up of two subdomains, which form a tightly packed interface. The C-terminal subdomain of WT HP67, denoted HP35, is rich in helical structure, folds in isolation, and has been widely used as a model system for folding studies. In contrast, very little is known about the folding of the intact villin headpiece domain. Here, NMR, CD and H/2H amide exchange measurements are used to follow the pH, thermal and urea-induced unfolding of WT HP67 and a mutant (HP67 H41Y) in which a buried conserved histidine in the N-terminal subdomain, His41, has been mutated to Tyr. Although most small proteins display two-state equilibrium unfolding, the results presented here demonstrate that unfolding of the villin headpiece is a multistate process. The presence of a folded N-terminal subdomain is shown to stabilize the C-terminal subdomain, increasing the midpoints of the thermal and urea-induced unfolding transitions and increasing protection factors for H/2H exchange. Histidine 41 has been shown to act as a pH-dependent switch in wild-type HP67: the N-terminal subdomain is unfolded when His41 is protonated, while the C-terminal subdomain remains folded irrespective of the protonation state of His41. Mutation of His41 to Tyr eliminates the segmental pH-dependent unfolding of the headpiece. The mutation stabilizes both domains, but folding is still multistate, indicating that His41 is not solely responsible for the unusual equilibrium unfolding behavior of villin headpiece domain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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