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Biophys J. 2006 Nov 1;91(9):3436-45. Epub 2006 Aug 4.

Examining the influence of linkers and tertiary structure in the forced unfolding of multiple-repeat spectrin molecules.

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Department of Chemistry, Center for Biophysical Modeling and Simulation, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, 84112-0850, USA.


The unfolding pathways of multiple-repeat spectrin molecules were examined using steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations to forcibly unfold double- and triple-repeat spectrin molecules. Although SMD has previously been used to study other repeating-domain proteins, spectrin offers a unique challenge in that the linker connecting repeat units has a definite secondary structure, that of an alpha-helix. Therefore, the boundary conditions imposed on a double- or triple-repeat spectrin must be carefully considered if any relationship to the real system is to be deduced. This was accomplished by imposing additional forces on the system which ensure that the terminal alpha-helices behave as if there were no free noncontiguous helical ends. The results of the SMD simulations highlight the importance of the rupture of the alpha-helical linker on the subsequent unfolding events. Rupture of the linker propagates unfolding in the adjacent repeat units by destabilizing the tertiary structure, ultimately resulting in complete unfolding of the affected repeat unit. Two dominant classes of unfolding pathways are observed after the initial rupture of a linker which involve either rupture of another linker (possibly adjacent) or rupture of the basic tertiary structure of a repeat unit. The relationship between the force response observed on simulation timescales and those of experiment or physiological conditions is also discussed.

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