The native ensemble and folding of a protein molten-globule: functional consequence of downhill folding.

TitleThe native ensemble and folding of a protein molten-globule: functional consequence of downhill folding.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsNaganathan, Athi N., and Orozco Modesto
JournalJ Am Chem Soc
Date Published2011 Aug 10
KeywordsModels, Molecular, Molecular Dynamics Simulation, Protein Conformation, Protein Folding, Proteins

The continually emerging functional significance of intrinsic disorder and conformational flexibility in proteins has challenged the long-standing dogma of a well-defined structure contributing to a specific function. Molten-globular states, a class of proteins with significant secondary-structure but a fluid hydrophobic core, is one such example. They have however been difficult to characterize due to the complexity of experimental data and lack of computational avenues. Here, we dissect the folding mechanism of the α-helical molten-globular protein NCBD from three fundamentally different approaches: statistical-mechanical variable barrier model, C(α)-based Go-model and explicit water all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. We find that NCBD displays the characteristics of a one-state globally downhill folder but is significantly destabilized. Using simulation techniques, we generate a highly constrained but a heterogeneous native ensemble of the molten-globule for the first time that is consistent with experimental data including small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), circular dichroism (CD), and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The resulting native ensemble populates conformations reported in other bound-forms providing direct evidence to the mechanism of conformational selection for binding multiple partners in this domain. Importantly, our simulations reveal a connection between downhill folding and large conformational flexibility in this domain that has been evolutionarily selected and functionally exploited resulting in large binding promiscuity. Finally, the multimodel approach we employ here serves as a powerful methodology to study mechanisms and suggests that the thermodynamic features of molten-globules fall within the array of folding mechanisms available to small single-domain proteins.