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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 May 26;95(11):5929-34.

Optimizing the stability of single-chain proteins by linker length and composition mutagenesis.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge MA 02139, USA.


Linker length and composition were varied in libraries of single-chain Arc repressor, resulting in proteins with effective concentrations ranging over six orders of magnitude (10 microM-10 M). Linkers of 11 residues or more were required for biological activity. Equilibrium stability varied substantially with linker length, reaching a maximum for glycine-rich linkers containing 19 residues. The effects of linker length on equilibrium stability arise from significant and sometimes opposing changes in folding and unfolding kinetics. By fixing the linker length at 19 residues and varying the ratio of Ala/Gly or Ser/Gly in a 16-residue-randomized region, the effects of linker flexibility were examined. In these libraries, composition rather than sequence appears to determine stability. Maximum stability in the Ala/Gly library was observed for a protein containing 11 alanines and five glycines in the randomized region of the linker. In the Ser/Gly library, the most stable protein had seven serines and nine glycines in this region. Analysis of folding and unfolding rates suggests that alanine acts largely by accelerating folding, whereas serine acts predominantly to slow unfolding. These results demonstrate an important role for linker design in determining the stability and folding kinetics of single-chain proteins and suggest strategies for optimizing these parameters.

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