The Journal of biological chemistry

Interconnection of salt-induced hydrophobic compaction and secondary structure formation depends on solution conditions: revisiting early events of protein folding at single molecule resolution.

PMID 22303014


What happens in the early stage of protein folding remains an interesting unsolved problem. Rapid kinetics measurements with cytochrome c using submillisecond continuous flow mixing devices suggest simultaneous formation of a compact collapsed state and secondary structure. These data seem to indicate that collapse formation is guided by specific short and long range interactions (heteropolymer collapse). A contrasting interpretation also has been proposed, which suggests that the collapse formation is rapid, nonspecific, and a trivial solvent related compaction, which could as well be observed by a homopolymer (homopolymer collapse). We address this controversy using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS), which enables us to monitor the salt-induced compaction accompanying collapse formation and the associated time constant directly at single molecule resolution. In addition, we follow the formation of secondary structure using far UV CD. The data presented here suggest that both these models (homopolymer and heteropolymer) could be applicable depending on the solution conditions. For example, the formation of secondary structure and compact state is not simultaneous in aqueous buffer. In aqueous buffer, formation of the compact state occurs through a two-state co-operative transition following heteropolymer formalism, whereas secondary structure formation takes place gradually. In contrast, in the presence of urea, a compaction of the protein radius occurs gradually over an extended range of salt concentration following homopolymer formalism. The salt-induced compaction and the formation of secondary structure take place simultaneously in the presence of urea.

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Sodium perchlorate, ACS reagent, ≥98.0%