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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 20;109(12):4467-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1109125109. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Folding mechanism of the metastable serpin α1-antitrypsin.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


The misfolding of serpins is linked to several genetic disorders including emphysema, thrombosis, and dementia. During folding, inhibitory serpins are kinetically trapped in a metastable state in which a stretch of residues near the C terminus of the molecule are exposed to solvent as a flexible loop (the reactive center loop). When they inhibit target proteases, serpins transition to a stable state in which the reactive center loop forms part of a six-stranded β-sheet. Here, we use hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry to monitor region-specific folding of the canonical serpin human α(1)-antitrypsin (α(1)-AT). We find large differences in the folding kinetics of different regions. A key region in the metastable → stable transition, β-strand 5A, shows a lag phase of nearly 350 s. In contrast, the "B-C barrel" region shows no lag phase and the incorporation of the C-terminal residues into β-sheets B and C is largely complete before the center of β-sheet A begins to fold. We propose this as the mechanism for trapping α(1)-AT in a metastable form. Additionally, this separation of timescales in the folding of different regions suggests a mechanism by which α(1)-AT avoids polymerization during folding.

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