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J Mol Biol. 1995 Dec 15;254(5):960-7.

Partially folded states of proteins: characterization by X-ray scattering.

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Service de Physique Théorique, Laboratoire de la Direction des Sciences de la Matière du Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


Partially folded states of proteins are found to occur with a wide variety of degrees of unfolding, ranging from the compact molten globule to the fully unfolded forms, depending on solvent conditions and the specific protein involved. Small to intermediate angle X-ray scattering from partially folded states of proteins yields low resolution scattering profiles that may be used to explore the degree of folding of a protein under given solution conditions. By Monte Carlo simulation of a highly simplified homopolymer model, we show that such partially folded states will yield a characteristic scattering profile that may be written as a linear superposition of scattering from a compact core and of scattering from random coil loops that emerge from this core. We also find a term resulting from interference of X-rays scattering from the core with those scattering from the loops. This interference term oscillates in sign and tends to enhance the core portion of the scattering profile. We compare the model calculations of the scattering profile with measurements of the scattering profile as a function of salt concentration for cytochrome c at pH 2. Because of our characterization of the scattering profiles, we suggest that these results may be re-interpreted in terms of the presence of a range of partially folded states as a function of pH and salt concentration, and that the observed scattering profiles are consistent with the characterization of the partially folded states in terms of random coil loops emerging from a compact core with the loop fraction increasing as the salt concentration is decreased. This characterization is consistent with data on amide protection against H-2H exchange of compact regions within partially folded states observed for a number of proteins, including cytochrome c.

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