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J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Mar 4;131(8):2942-7. doi: 10.1021/ja808305u.

Protein folding, protein collapse, and tanford's transfer model: lessons from single-molecule FRET.

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Chemical Physics Department, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


The essential and nontrivial role of the denatured state of proteins in their folding reaction is being increasingly scrutinized in recent years. Single molecule FRET (smFRET) experiments show that the denatured state undergoes a continuous collapse (or coil-to-globule) transition as the concentration of a chemical denaturant is decreased, suggesting that conformational entropy of the denatured state is an important part of the free energy of folding. Such observations question the validity of the classical Tanford transfer model, which suggests that the folding free energy can be understood solely based on the difference in amino acid solvation between the folded state and a fixed unfolded state. An alternative to the transfer model is obtained here from a polymer theoretical analysis of a series of published smFRET data. The analysis shows that the free energy of denatured-state collapse has a linear dependence on denaturant concentration, an outcome of the interplay between enthalpic and entropic contributions. Surprisingly, the slope of the free energy of collapse agrees very well with the respective slope of the free energy of folding. This conformity of values obtained from two very different measurements shows that it is the collapse transition in the denatured state which mediates the effect of denaturants on folding. The energetics of folding are thus governed by the competition of solvation and conformational entropy in the denatured state.

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