Synergy between simulation and experiment in describing the energy landscape of protein folding.
ABSTRACT: Experimental data from protein engineering studies and NMR spectroscopy have been used by theoreticians to develop algorithms for helix propensity and to benchmark computer simulations of folding pathways and energy landscapes. Molecular dynamic simulations of the unfolding of chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) have provided detailed structural models of the transition state ensemble for unfolding/folding of the protein. We now have used the simulated transition state structures to design faster folding mutants of CI2. The models pinpoint a number of unfavorable local interactions at the carboxyl terminus of the single alpha-helix and in the protease-binding loop region of CI2. By removing these interactions or replacing them with stabilizing ones, we have increased the rate of folding of the protein up to 40-fold (tau = 0.4 ms). This correspondence, and other examples of agreement between experiment and theory in general, Phi-values and molecular dynamics simulations, in particular, suggest that significant progress has been made toward describing complete folding pathways at atomic resolution by combining experiment and simulation.
Project description:To better characterize the transition state for folding/unfolding and its sensitivity to environmental changes, we have run multiple molecular dynamics simulations of chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) under varying solvent conditions and temperature. The transition state structures agree well with experiment, and are similar under all of the conditions investigated here. Increasing the temperature leads to some movement in the position of the transition state along several reaction coordinates, as measured by changes in properties of the transition state structures. These structural changes are in the direction of a more native-like transition state as denaturation conditions become more severe, as expected for a Hammond effect. These structural changes are not, however, reflected in the global structure as measured by the total number of contacts or the average S-values. These results suggest that the small changes in average Phi-values with temperature seen by experiment may be due to an increase in the sensitivity of the transition state to mutation rather than a change in the average structure of the transition state. A simple analysis of the rates of unfolding indicates that the free energy barrier to unfolding decreases with increasing temperature, but even in our very high temperature simulations there is a small free energy barrier.
Project description:Urea-induced protein denaturation is widely used to study protein folding and stability; however, the molecular mechanism and driving forces of this process are not yet fully understood. In particular, it is unclear whether either hydrophobic or polar interactions between urea molecules and residues at the protein surface drive denaturation. To address this question, here, many molecular dynamics simulations totalling ca. 7 micros of the CI2 protein in aqueous solution served to perform a computational thought experiment, in which we varied the polarity of urea. For apolar driving forces, hypopolar urea should show increased denaturation power; for polar driving forces, hyperpolar urea should be the stronger denaturant. Indeed, protein unfolding was observed in all simulations with decreased urea polarity. Hyperpolar urea, in contrast, turned out to stabilize the native state. Moreover, the differential interaction preferences between urea and the 20 amino acids turned out to be enhanced for hypopolar urea and suppressed (or even inverted) for hyperpolar urea. These results strongly suggest that apolar urea-protein interactions, and not polar interactions, are the dominant driving force for denaturation. Further, the observed interactions provide a detailed picture of the underlying molecular driving forces. Our simulations finally allowed characterization of CI2 unfolding pathways. Unfolding proceeds sequentially with alternating loss of secondary or tertiary structure. After the transition state, unfolding pathways show large structural heterogeneity.
Project description:Ab initio simulations of the folding pathways are currently limited to very small proteins. For larger proteins, some approximations or simplifications in protein models need to be introduced. Protein folding and unfolding are among the basic processes in the cell and are very difficult to characterize in detail by experiment or simulation. Chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) and barnase are probably the best characterized experimentally in this respect. For these model systems, initial folding stages were simulated by using CA-CB-side chain (CABS), a reduced-space protein-modeling tool. CABS employs knowledge-based potentials that proved to be very successful in protein structure prediction. With the use of isothermal Monte Carlo (MC) dynamics, initiation sites with a residual structure and weak tertiary interactions were identified. Such structures are essential for the initiation of the folding process through a sequential reduction of the protein conformational space, overcoming the Levinthal paradox in this manner. Furthermore, nucleation sites that initiate a tertiary interactions network were located. The MC simulations correspond perfectly to the results of experimental and theoretical research and bring insights into CI2 folding mechanism: unambiguous sequence of folding events was reported as well as cooperative substructures compatible with those obtained in recent molecular dynamics unfolding studies. The correspondence between the simulation and experiment shows that knowledge-based potentials are not only useful in protein structure predictions but are also capable of reproducing the folding pathways. Thus, the results of this work significantly extend the applicability range of reduced models in the theoretical study of proteins.
Project description:The four-helix bundle protein Rd-apocyt b(562), a redesigned stable variant of apocytochrome b(562), exhibits two-state folding kinetics. Its transition-state ensemble has been characterized by Phi-value analysis. To elucidate the molecular basis of the transition-state ensemble, we have carried out high-temperature molecular dynamics simulations of the unfolding process. In six parallel simulations, unfolding started with the melting of helix I and the C-terminal half of helix IV, and followed by helix III, the N-terminal half of helix IV and helix II. This ordered melting of the helices is consistent with the conclusion from native-state hydrogen exchange, and can be rationalized by differences in intrinsic helix propensity. Guided by experimental Phi-values, a putative transition-state ensemble was extracted from the simulations. The residue helical probabilities of this transition-state ensemble show good correlation with the Phi-values. To further validate the putative transition-state ensemble, the effect of macromolecular crowding on the relative stability between the unfolded ensemble and the transition-state ensemble was calculated. The resulting effect of crowding on the folding kinetics agrees well with experimental observations. This study shows that molecular dynamics simulations combined with calculation of crowding effects provide an avenue for characterize the transition-state ensemble in atomic details.
Project description:Infrared (IR) spectroscopy has been widely utilized for the study of protein folding, unfolding, and misfolding processes. We have previously developed a theoretical method for calculating IR spectra of proteins in the amide I region. In this work, we apply this method, in combination with replica-exchange molecular dynamics simulations, to study the equilibrium thermal unfolding transition of the villin headpiece subdomain (HP36). Temperature-dependent IR spectra and spectral densities are calculated. The spectral densities correctly reflect the unfolding conformational changes in the simulation. With the help of isotope labeling, we are able to capture the feature that helix 2 of HP36 loses its secondary structure before global unfolding occurs, in agreement with experiment.
Project description:We report rate constant calculations and a reaction coordinate analysis of the rate-limiting folding and unfolding process of the Trp-cage mini-protein in explicit solvent using transition interface sampling. Previous transition path sampling simulations revealed that in this (un)folding process the protein maintains its compact configuration, while a (de)increase of secondary structure is observed. The calculated folding rate agrees reasonably with experiment, while the unfolding rate is 10 times higher. We discuss possible origins for this mismatch. We recomputed the rates with the forward flux sampling method, and found a discrepancy of four orders of magnitude, probably caused by the method's higher sensitivity to the choice of order parameter with respect to transition interface sampling. Finally, we used the previously computed transition path-sampling ensemble to screen combinations of many order parameters for the best model of the reaction coordinate by employing likelihood maximization. We found that a combination of the root mean-square deviation of the helix and of the entire protein was, of the set of tried order parameters, the one that best describes the reaction coordination.
Project description:Characterization of the folding transition-state ensemble and the denatured-state ensemble is an important step toward a full elucidation of protein folding mechanisms. We report herein an investigation of the free-energy landscape of FSD-1 protein by a total of four sets of folding and unfolding molecular dynamics simulations with explicit solvent. The transition-state ensemble was initially identified from unfolding simulations at 500 K and was verified by simulations at 300 K starting from the ensemble structures. The denatured-state ensemble and the early-stage folding were studied by a combination of unfolding simulations at 500 K and folding simulations at 300 K starting from the extended conformation. A common feature of the transition-state ensemble was the substantial formation of the native secondary structures, including both the alpha-helix and beta-sheet, with partial exposure of the hydrophobic core in the solvent. Both the native and non-native secondary structures were observed in the denatured-state ensemble and early-stage folding, consistent with the smooth experimental melting curve. Interestingly, the contact orders of the transition-state ensemble structures were similar to that of the native structure and were notably lower than those of the compact structures found in early-stage folding, implying that chain and topological entropy might play significant roles in protein folding. Implications for FSD-1 folding mechanisms and the rate-limiting step are discussed. Analyses further revealed interesting non-native interactions in the denatured-state ensemble and early-stage folding and the possibility that destabilization of these interactions could help to enhance the stability and folding rate of the protein.
Project description:One of the predictions of the energy landscape theory of protein folding is the possibility of barrierless, "downhill" folding under certain conditions. The protein 1BBL has been proposed to fold by such a downhill mechanism, though this is a matter of some dispute. We carried out extensive replica exchange molecular dynamics simulations on 1BBL in explicit solvent to address this controversy and provide a microscopic picture of its folding thermodynamics. Our simulations show two distinct structural transitions in the folding of 1BBL. A low-temperature transition involves a disordering of the protein's tertiary structure without loss of secondary structure. A distinct, higher temperature transition involves the complete loss of secondary structure and dissolution of the hydrophobic core. In contrast, control simulations of the 1BBL homolog E3BD show a single high temperature unfolding transition. Further simulations of 1BBL at high ionic strength show a significant destabilization of helix II but not helix I, suggesting that the apparent folding cooperativity of 1BBL may be highly dependent on experimental conditions. Although our simulations cannot provide definitive evidence of downhill folding in 1BBL, they clearly show evidence of a complex, non-two-state folding process.
Project description:The ultrafast folding pathway of the engrailed homeodomain has been exceptionally well characterized by experiment and simulation. Helices II and III of the three-helix bundle protein form the native helix-turn-helix motif as an on-pathway intermediate within a few microseconds. The slow step is then the proper docking of the helices in approximately 15 mus. However, there is still the unexplained puzzle of why helix docking is relatively slow, which is part of the more general question as to why rearrangements of intermediates occur slowly. To address this problem, we performed 46 all-atom molecular dynamics refolding simulations in explicit water, for a total of 15 micros of simulation time. The simulations started from an intermediate state structure that was generated in an unfolding simulation at 498 K and was then quenched to folding-permissive temperatures. The protein refolded successfully in only one of the 46 simulations, and in that case the refolding pathway mirrored the unfolding pathway at high temperature. In the 45 simulations in which the protein did not fully fold, nonnative salt bridges trapped the protein, which explains why the protein folds relatively slowly from the intermediate state.
Project description:A microscopic study of functional disorder-order folding transitions coupled to binding is performed for the p27 protein, which derives a kinetic advantage from the intrinsically disordered unbound form on binding with the phosphorylated cyclin A-cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (Cdk2) complex. Hierarchy of structural loss during p27 coupled unfolding and unbinding is simulated by using high-temperature Monte Carlo simulations initiated from the crystal structure of the tertiary complex. Subsequent determination of the transition-state ensemble and the proposed atomic picture of the folding mechanism coupled to binding provide a microscopic rationale that reconciles the initiation recruitment of p27 at the cyclin A docking site with the kinetic benefit for a disordered alpha-helix in the unbound form of p27. The emerging structural polarization in the ensemble of unfolding/unbinding trajectories and in the computationally determined transition-state ensemble is not determined by the intrinsic folding preferences of p27 but rather is attributed to the topological requirements of the native intermolecular interface to order beta-hairpin and beta-strand of p27 that could be critical for nucleating rapid folding transition coupled to binding. In agreement with the experimental data, the disorder-order folding transition for p27 is largely determined by the functional requirement to form a specific intermolecular interface that ultimately dictates the folding mechanism and overwhelms any local folding preferences for creating a stable alpha-helix in the p27 structure before overcoming the major free energy barrier.