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Nature. 1998 Oct 22;395(6704):817-9.

Unfolded conformations of alpha-lytic protease are more stable than its native state.

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Graduate Group in Biophysics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California at San Francisco, 94143-0448, USA.


alpha-Lytic protease (alphaLP), an extracellular bacterial protease, is synthesized with a large amino-terminal pro-region that is essential for its folding in vivo and in vitro. In the absence of the pro-region, the protease folds to an inactive, partially folded state, designated 'I'. The pro-region catalyses protease folding by directly stabilizing the folding transition state (>26kcal mol(-1)) which separates the native state 'N' from I. Although a basic tenet of protein folding is that the native state of a protein is at the minimum free energy, we show here that both the I and fully unfolded states of alphaLP are lower in free energy than the native state. Native alphaLP is thus metastable: its apparent stability derives from a large barrier to unfolding. Consequently, the evolution of alphaLP has been distinct from most other proteins: it has not been constrained by the free-energy difference between the native and unfolded states, but instead by the size of its unfolding barrier.

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