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J Am Chem Soc. 2011 Aug 10;133(31):12154-61. doi: 10.1021/ja204053n. Epub 2011 Jul 15.

The native ensemble and folding of a protein molten-globule: functional consequence of downhill folding.

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IRB-BSC Joint Research Program in Computational Biology, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Torre Girona, C/Jordi Girona 31, Barcelona 08034, Spain.


The continually emerging functional significance of intrinsic disorder and conformational flexibility in proteins has challenged the long-standing dogma of a well-defined structure contributing to a specific function. Molten-globular states, a class of proteins with significant secondary-structure but a fluid hydrophobic core, is one such example. They have however been difficult to characterize due to the complexity of experimental data and lack of computational avenues. Here, we dissect the folding mechanism of the α-helical molten-globular protein NCBD from three fundamentally different approaches: statistical-mechanical variable barrier model, C(α)-based Gō-model and explicit water all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. We find that NCBD displays the characteristics of a one-state globally downhill folder but is significantly destabilized. Using simulation techniques, we generate a highly constrained but a heterogeneous native ensemble of the molten-globule for the first time that is consistent with experimental data including small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), circular dichroism (CD), and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The resulting native ensemble populates conformations reported in other bound-forms providing direct evidence to the mechanism of conformational selection for binding multiple partners in this domain. Importantly, our simulations reveal a connection between downhill folding and large conformational flexibility in this domain that has been evolutionarily selected and functionally exploited resulting in large binding promiscuity. Finally, the multimodel approach we employ here serves as a powerful methodology to study mechanisms and suggests that the thermodynamic features of molten-globules fall within the array of folding mechanisms available to small single-domain proteins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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