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EMBO J. 2003 Jul 1;22(13):3220-30.

Folding with and without encapsulation by cis- and trans-only GroEL-GroES complexes.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine, Boyer Center, 295 Congress Avenue, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Although a cis mechanism of GroEL-mediated protein folding, occurring inside a hydrophilic chamber encapsulated by the co-chaperonin GroES, has been well documented, recently the GroEL-GroES-mediated folding of aconitase, a large protein (82 kDa) that could not be encapsulated, was described. This process required GroES binding to the ring opposite the polypeptide (trans) to drive release and productive folding. Here, we have evaluated this mechanism further using trans-only complexes in which GroES is closely tethered to one of the two GroEL rings, blocking polypeptide binding by that ring. In vitro, trans-only folded aconitase with kinetics identical to GroEL-GroES. Surprisingly, trans-only also folded smaller GroEL-GroES-dependent substrates, Rubisco and malate dehydrogenase, but at rates slower than the cis reaction. Remarkably, in vivo, a plasmid encoding a trans-only complex rescued a GroEL-deficient strain, but the colony size was approximately one-tenth that produced by wild-type GroEL-GroES. We conclude that a trans mechanism, involving rounds of binding to an open ring and direct release into the bulk solution, can be generally productive although, where size permits, cis encapsulation supports more efficient folding.

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