Journal of molecular biology

Effects of the difference in the unfolded-state ensemble on the folding of Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase.

PMID 12787677


The unfolded state of a protein is an ensemble of a large number of conformations ranging from fully extended to compact structures. To investigate the effects of the difference in the unfolded-state ensemble on protein folding, we have studied the structure, stability, and folding of "circular" dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) from Escherichia coli in which the N and C-terminal regions are cross-linked by a disulfide bond, and compared the results with those of disulfide-reduced "linear" DHFR. Equilibrium studies by circular dichroism, difference absorption spectra, solution X-ray scattering, and size-exclusion chromatography show that whereas the native structures of both proteins are essentially the same, the unfolded state of circular DHFR adopts more compact conformations than the unfolded state of the linear form, even with the absence of secondary structure. Circular DHFR is more stable than linear DHFR, which may be due to the decrease in the conformational entropy of the unfolded state as a result of circularization. Kinetic refolding measurements by stopped-flow circular dichroism and fluorescence show that under the native conditions both proteins accumulate a burst-phase intermediate having the same structures and both fold by the same complex folding mechanism with the same folding rates. Thus, the effects of the difference in the unfolded state of circular and linear DHFRs on the refolding reaction are not observed after the formation of the intermediate. This suggests that for the proteins with close termini in the native structure, early compaction of a protein molecule to form a specific folding intermediate with the N and C-terminal regions in close proximity is a crucial event in folding. If there is an enhancement in the folding reflecting the reduction in the breadth of the unfolded-state ensemble for circular DHFR, this acceleration must occur in the sub-millisecond time-range.

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