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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19425. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019425. Epub 2011 May 16.

Rational design of protein stability: effect of (2S,4R)-4-fluoroproline on the stability and folding pathway of ubiquitin.

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Institute of Molecular Biology and Biophysics, ETH-Hönggerberg, Zürich, Switzerland.



Many strategies have been employed to increase the conformational stability of proteins. The use of 4-substituted proline analogs capable to induce pre-organization in target proteins is an attractive tool to deliver an additional conformational stability without perturbing the overall protein structure. Both, peptides and proteins containing 4-fluorinated proline derivatives can be stabilized by forcing the pyrrolidine ring in its favored puckering conformation. The fluorinated pyrrolidine rings of proline can preferably stabilize either a C(γ)-exo or a C(γ)-endo ring pucker in dependence of proline chirality (4R/4S) in a complex protein structure. To examine whether this rational strategy can be generally used for protein stabilization, we have chosen human ubiquitin as a model protein which contains three proline residues displaying C(γ)-exo puckering.


While (2S,4R)-4-fluoroproline ((4R)-FPro) containing ubiquitinin can be expressed in related auxotrophic Escherichia coli strain, all attempts to incorporate (2S,4S)-4-fluoroproline ((4S)-FPro) failed. Our results indicate that (4R)-FPro is favoring the C(γ)-exo conformation present in the wild type structure and stabilizes the protein structure due to a pre-organization effect. This was confirmed by thermal and guanidinium chloride-induced denaturation profile analyses, where we observed an increase in stability of -4.71 kJ·mol(-1) in the case of (4R)-FPro containing ubiquitin ((4R)-FPro-ub) compared to wild type ubiquitin (wt-ub). Expectedly, activity assays revealed that (4R)-FPro-ub retained the full biological activity compared to wt-ub.


The results fully confirm the general applicability of incorporating fluoroproline derivatives for improving protein stability. In general, a rational design strategy that enforces the natural occurring proline puckering conformation can be used to stabilize the desired target protein.

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