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Biochemistry. 1986 Nov 4;25(22):6965-72.

Evidence for identity between the equilibrium unfolding intermediate and a transient folding intermediate: a comparative study of the folding reactions of alpha-lactalbumin and lysozyme.


The refolding kinetics of alpha-lactalbumin at different concentrations of guanidine hydrochloride have been investigated by means of kinetic circular dichroism and stopped-flow absorption measurements. The refolding reaction consists of at least two stages, the instantaneous accumulation of the transient intermediate that has peptide secondary structure and the subsequent slow process associated with formation of tertiary structure. The transient intermediate is compared with the well-characterized equilibrium intermediate observed during the denaturant-induced unfolding. Stabilities of the secondary structures against the denaturant, affinities for Ca2+, and tryptophan absorption properties of the transient and equilibrium intermediates were investigated. In all of these respects, the transient intermediate is identical with the equilibrium one, demonstrating the validity of the use of the equilibrium intermediate as a model of the folding intermediate. Essentially the same transient intermediate was also detected in the folding of lysozyme, the protein known to be homologous to alpha-lactalbumin but whose equilibrium unfolding is represented as a two-state reaction. The stability and cooperativity of the secondary structure of the intermediate of lysozyme are compared with those of alpha-lactalbumin. The results show that the protein folding occurring via the intermediate is not limited to the proteins that show equilibrium intermediates. Although the unfolding equilibria of most proteins are well approximated as a two-state reaction, the two-state hypothesis may not be applicable to the folding reaction under the native condition. Two models of protein folding, intermediate-controlled folding model and multiple-pathway folding model, which are different in view of the role of the intermediate in determining the pathway of folding, are also discussed.

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