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Nature. 1997 Nov 13;390(6656):196-9.

Folding dynamics and mechanism of beta-hairpin formation.

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Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-0520, USA.


Protein chains coil into alpha-helices and beta-sheet structures. Knowing the timescales and mechanism of formation of these basic structural elements is essential for understanding how proteins fold. For the past 40 years, alpha-helix formation has been extensively investigated in synthetic and natural peptides, including by nanosecond kinetic studies. In contrast, the mechanism of formation of beta structures has not been studied experimentally. The minimal beta-structure element is the beta-hairpin, which is also the basic component of antiparallel beta-sheets. Here we use a nanosecond laser temperature-jump apparatus to study the kinetics of folding a beta-hairpin consisting of 16 amino-acid residues. Folding of the hairpin occurs in 6 micros at room temperature, which is about 30 times slower than the rate of alpha-helix formation. We have developed a simple statistical mechanical model that provides a structural explanation for this result. Our analysis also shows that folding of a beta-hairpin captures much of the basic physics of protein folding, including stabilization by hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic interactions, two-state behaviour, and a funnel-like, partially rugged energy landscape.

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