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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Single-molecule chemo-mechanical unfolding reveals multiple transition state barriers in a small single-domain protein

Emily J. Guinn, Bharat Jagannathan & Susan Marqusee

A fundamental question in protein folding is whether proteins fold through one or multiple trajectories. While most experiments indicate a single pathway, simulations suggest proteins can fold through many parallel pathways. Here, we use a combination of chemical denaturant, mechanical force and site-directed mutations to demonstrate the presence of multiple unfolding pathways in a simple, two-state folding protein. We show that these multiple pathways have structurally different transition states, and that seemingly small changes in protein sequence and environment can strongly modulate the flux between the pathways. These results suggest that in vivo, the crowded cellular environment could strongly influence the mechanisms of protein folding and unfolding. Our study resolves the apparent dichotomy between experimental and theoretical studies, and highlights the advantage of using a multipronged approach to reveal the complexities of a protein’s free-energy landscape.

DOI
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