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Protein Sci. 1995 Feb;4(2):167-77.

Early intermediates in the folding of dihydrofolate reductase from Escherichia coli detected by hydrogen exchange and NMR.

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Department of Chemistry, Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16802, USA.


The kinetic folding mechanism for Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase postulates two distinct types of transient intermediates. The first forms within 5 ms and has substantial secondary structure but little stability. The second is a set of four species that appear over the course of several hundred milliseconds and have secondary structure, specific tertiary structure, and significant stability (Jennings PA, Finn BE, Jones BE, Matthews CR, 1993, Biochemistry 32:3783-3789). Pulse labeling hydrogen exchange experiments were performed to determine the specific amide hydrogens in alpha-helices and beta-strands that become protected from exchange through the formation of stable hydrogen bonds during this time period. A significant degree of protection was observed for two subsets of the amide hydrogens within the dead time of this experiment (6 ms). The side chains of one subset form a continuous nonpolar strip linking six of the eight strands in the beta-sheet. The other subset corresponds to a nonpolar cluster on the opposite face of the sheet and links three of the strands and two alpha-helices. Taken together, these data demonstrate that the complex strand topology of this eight-stranded sheet can be formed correctly within 6 ms. Measurement of the protection factors at three different folding times (13 ms, 141 ms, and 500 ms) indicates that, of the 13 amide hydrogens displaying significant protection within 6 ms, 8 exhibit an increase in their protection factors from approximately 5 to approximately 50 over this time range; the remaining five exhibit protection factors > 100 at 13 ms. Only approximately half of the population of molecules form this set of stable hydrogen bonds. Thirteen additional hydrogens in the beta-sheet become protected from exchange as the set of native conformers appear, suggesting that the stabilization of this network reflects the global cooperativity of the folding reaction.

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