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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 May 1;90(9):3978-82.

A polypeptide bound by the chaperonin groEL is localized within a central cavity.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510.


Chaperonins are oligomeric protein complexes that play an essential role in the cell, mediating ATP-dependent polypeptide chain folding in a variety of cellular compartments. They appear to bind early folding intermediates, preventing their aggregation; in the presence of MgATP and a cochaperonin, bound polypeptides are released in a stepwise manner, associated with folding to the native state. Chaperonin complexes appear in the electron microscope as cylindrical structures, usually composed of two stacked rings, each containing, by negative staining, an electron dense central "hole" approximately 6.0 nm in diameter. We sought to identify the site on the Escherichia coli chaperonin groEL, where the "molten globule"-like intermediate of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) becomes bound, by examining in the scanning transmission electron microscope complexes formed between groEL and DHFR molecules bearing covalently crosslinked 1.4-nm gold clusters. In top views of the groEL complexes, gold densities were observed in the central region; in side views, the densities were seen at the end portions of the cylinders, corresponding to positions within the individual rings. In some cases, two gold densities were observed in the same groEL complex. We conclude that folding intermediates are bound inside central cavities within individual chaperonin rings. In this potentially sequestered location, folding intermediates with a compact conformation can be bound at multiple sites by surrounding monomeric members of the ring; localization of folding within the cavity could also facilitate rebinding of structures that initially fail to incorporate properly into the folding protein.

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