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Biochemistry. 1975 Nov 4;14(22):4953-63.

Consideration of the Possibility that the slow step in protein denaturation reactions is due to cis-trans isomerism of proline residues.


A model is proposed to account for the observation that the denaturation of small proteins apparently occurs in two kinetic phases. It is suggested that only one of these phases--the fast one--is actually an unfolding process. The slow phase is assumed to arise from the cis-trans isomerism of proline residues in the denaturated protein. From model compound data, it is shown that the expected rate for isomerism is in satisfactory agreement with the rates actually observed for protein folding. It is also shown that a simple model of protein unfolding based on the isomerism concept is very successful in accounting for many known experimental characteristics of the kinetics and thermodynamic of protein denaturation. Thus, the model is able to predict that two kinetic phases will be seen in the transition region while none are seen in the base-line regions, that both the fast and slow refolding phases lead to the native protein as the product, that the fast phase becomes the only observable phase for jumps ending far in the denatured base-line region, that most or all small proteins show a limiting low-temperature activation energy of ca. 20,000 cal, and that the relaxtion time for the slow phase seen in cytochrome c denaturation is much shorter than for all other small proteins. By utilizing "double-jump" experiments, it is shown directly that the slow phase is not part of the unfolding process but that it corresponds to a transition among two or more denatured forms which have identical spectroscopic (286.5 nm) properties. Thus, the slow relaxation is "invisible" except in the transition region where it couples to the fast unfolding equilibrium. Finally, since the present model assumes that only one of the major kinetic phases seen in denaturation reactions is concerned with the denaturation process per se, it is in agreement with numerous thermodynamic studies which show consistency with the two-state model for unfolding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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