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J Mol Biol. 2012 Oct 5;422(5):674-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2012.06.019. Epub 2012 Jun 19.

Electrostatically accelerated coupled binding and folding of intrinsically disordered proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.


Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are now recognized to be prevalent in biology, and many potential functional benefits have been discussed. However, the frequent requirement of peptide folding in specific interactions of IDPs could impose a kinetic bottleneck, which could be overcome only by efficient folding upon encounter. Intriguingly, existing kinetic data suggest that specific binding of IDPs is generally no slower than that of globular proteins. Here, we exploited the cell cycle regulator p27(Kip1) (p27) as a model system to understand how IDPs might achieve efficient folding upon encounter for facile recognition. Combining experiments and coarse-grained modeling, we demonstrate that long-range electrostatic interactions between enriched charges on p27 and near its binding site on cyclin A not only enhance the encounter rate (i.e., electrostatic steering) but also promote folding-competent topologies in the encounter complexes, allowing rapid subsequent formation of short-range native interactions en route to the specific complex. In contrast, nonspecific hydrophobic interactions, while hardly affecting the encounter rate, can significantly reduce the efficiency of folding upon encounter and lead to slower binding kinetics. Further analysis of charge distributions in a set of known IDP complexes reveals that, although IDP binding sites tend to be more hydrophobic compared to the rest of the target surface, their vicinities are frequently enriched with charges to complement those on IDPs. This observation suggests that electrostatically accelerated encounter and induced folding might represent a prevalent mechanism for promoting facile IDP recognition.

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