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Biopolymers. 2013 Nov;99(11):870-87. doi: 10.1002/bip.22298.

Under-folded proteins: Conformational ensembles and their roles in protein folding, function, and pathogenesis.

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Department of Molecular Medicine, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Research Institute, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, 33612; Institute for Biological Instrumentation, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino, 142292, Moscow Region, Russia.


For decades, protein function was intimately linked to the presence of a unique, aperiodic crystal-like structure in a functional protein. The two only places for conformational ensembles of under-folded (or partially folded) protein forms in this picture were either the end points of the protein denaturation processes or transiently populated folding intermediates. Recent years witnessed dramatic change in this perception and conformational ensembles, which the under-folded proteins are, have moved from the shadow. Accumulated to date data suggest that a protein can exist in at least three global forms-functional and folded, functional and intrinsically disordered (nonfolded), and nonfunctional and misfolded/aggregated. Under-folded protein states are crucial for each of these forms, serving as important folding intermediates of ordered proteins, or as functional states of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) and IDP regions (IDPRs), or as pathology triggers of misfolded proteins. Based on these observations, conformational ensembles of under-folded proteins can be classified as transient (folding and misfolding intermediates) and permanent (IDPs and stable misfolded proteins). Permanently under-folded proteins can further be split into intentionally designed (IDPs and IDPRs) and unintentionally designed (misfolded proteins). Although intrinsic flexibility, dynamics, and pliability are crucial for all under-folded proteins, the different categories of under-foldedness are differently encoded in protein amino acid sequences.


conformational ensemble; intrinsically disordered protein; protein folding; protein misfolding

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