Probing the folding transition state of ubiquitin mutants by temperature-jump-induced downhill unfolding.
ABSTRACT: Crucial to revealing mechanistic details of protein folding is a characterization of the transition state ensemble and its structural dynamics. To probe the transition state of ubiquitin thermal unfolding, we examine unfolding dynamics and kinetics of wild-type and mutant ubiquitin using time-resolved nonlinear infrared spectroscopy after a nanosecond temperature jump. We observe spectral changes on two different time scales. A fast nonexponential microsecond phase is attributed to downhill unfolding from the transition state region, which is induced by a shift of the barrier due to the rapid temperature change. Slow millisecond changes arise from thermally activated folding and unfolding kinetics. Mutants that stabilize or destabilize beta strands III-V lead to a decreased or increased amplitude of the microsecond phase, indicating that the disruption or weakening of these strands occurs in the transition state. Unfolding features from microseconds to milliseconds can be explained by temperature-dependent changes of a two-dimensional free energy surface constructed by the native contacts between beta strands of the protein. In addition, the results support the possibility of an intermediate state in thermal unfolding.
Project description:Steady-state and transient conformational changes upon the thermal unfolding of ubiquitin were investigated with nonlinear IR spectroscopy of the amide I vibrations. Equilibrium temperature-dependent 2D IR spectroscopy reveals the unfolding of the beta-sheet of ubiquitin through the loss of cross peaks formed between transitions arising from delocalized vibrations of the beta-sheet. Transient unfolding after a nanosecond temperature jump is monitored with dispersed vibrational echo spectroscopy, a projection of the 2D IR spectrum. Whereas the equilibrium study follows a simple two-state unfolding, the transient experiments observe complex relaxation behavior that differs for various spectral components and spans 6 decades in time. The transient behavior can be separated into fast and slow time scales. From 100 ns to 0.5 ms, the spectral features associated with beta-sheet unfolding relax in a sequential, nonexponential manner, with time constants of 3 micros and 80 micros. By modeling the amide I vibrations of ubiquitin, this observation is explained as unfolding of the less stable strands III-V of the beta-sheet before unfolding of the hairpin that forms part of the hydrophobic core. This downhill unfolding is followed by exponential barrier-crossing kinetics on a 3-ms time scale.
Project description:The Y22W/Q33Y/G46,48A mutant of the protein lambda6-85 folds in a few microseconds at room temperature. We find that its folding kinetics are probe-dependent under a strong bias toward the native state, a new signature for downhill folding. The IR- and fluorescence-detected relaxation time scales converge when the native bias is removed by raising the temperature, recovering activated two-state folding. Langevin dynamics simulations on one- and 2D free energy surfaces tunable from two-state to downhill folding reproduce the difference between the IR and fluorescence experiments, as well as the temperature and viscosity trends. In addition, the 2D surface reproduces the stretched exponential dynamics that we fit to the glucose solution experimental data at short times. Nonexponential dynamics at <10 micros is a signature either for local free energy minima along the reaction coordinate ("longitudinal roughness"), or for folding on a higher-dimensional free energy surface ("transverse roughness").
Project description:The relationship between folding cooperativity and downhill, or barrier-free, folding of proteins under highly stabilizing conditions remains an unresolved topic, especially for proteins such as λ-repressor that fold on the microsecond timescale. Under aqueous conditions where downhill folding is most likely to occur, we measure the stability of multiple H bonds, using hydrogen exchange (HX) in a λYA variant that is suggested to be an incipient downhill folder having an extrapolated folding rate constant of 2 × 10(5) s(-1) and a stability of 7.4 kcal·mol(-1) at 298 K. At least one H bond on each of the three largest helices (α1, α3, and α4) breaks during a common unfolding event that reflects global denaturation. The use of HX enables us to both examine folding under highly stabilizing, native-like conditions and probe the pretransition state region for stable species without the need to initiate the folding reaction. The equivalence of the stability determined at zero and high denaturant indicates that any residual denatured state structure minimally affects the stability even under native conditions. Using our ψ analysis method along with mutational ϕ analysis, we find that the three aforementioned helices are all present in the folding transition state. Hence, the free energy surface has a sufficiently high barrier separating the denatured and native states that folding appears cooperative even under extremely stable and fast folding conditions.
Project description:The small helical protein BBL has been shown to fold and unfold in the absence of a free energy barrier according to a battery of quantitative criteria in equilibrium experiments, including probe-dependent equilibrium unfolding, complex coupling between denaturing agents, characteristic DSC thermogram, gradual melting of secondary structure, and heterogeneous atom-by-atom unfolding behaviors spanning the entire unfolding process. Here, we present the results of nanosecond T-jump experiments probing backbone structure by IR and end-to-end distance by FRET. The folding dynamics observed with these two probes are both exponential with common relaxation times but have large differences in amplitude following their probe-dependent equilibrium unfolding. The quantitative analysis of amplitude and relaxation time data for both probes shows that BBL folding dynamics are fully consistent with the one-state folding scenario and incompatible with alternative models involving one or several barrier crossing events. At 333 K, the relaxation time for BBL is 1.3 micros, in agreement with previous folding speed limit estimates. However, late folding events at room temperature are an order of magnitude slower (20 micros), indicating a relatively rough underlying energy landscape. Our results in BBL expose the dynamic features of one-state folding and chart the intrinsic time-scales for conformational motions along the folding process. Interestingly, the simple self-averaging folding dynamics of BBL are the exact dynamic properties required in molecular rheostats, thus supporting a biological role for one-state folding.
Project description:A one-state downhill protein folding process is barrierless at all conditions, resulting in gradual melting of native structure that permits resolving folding mechanisms step-by-step at atomic resolution. Experimental studies of one-state downhill folding have typically focused on the thermal denaturation of proteins that fold near the speed limit (ca. 10(6) s(-1)) at their unfolding temperature, thus being several orders of magnitude too fast for current single-molecule methods, such as single-molecule FRET. An important open question is whether one-state downhill folding kinetics can be slowed down to make them accessible to single-molecule approaches without turning the protein into a conventional activated folder. Here we address this question on the small helical protein BBL, a paradigm of one-state downhill thermal (un)folding. We decreased 200-fold the BBL folding-unfolding rate by combining chemical denaturation and low temperature, and carried out free-diffusion single-molecule FRET experiments with 50-?s resolution and maximal photoprotection using a recently developed Trolox-cysteamine cocktail. These experiments revealed a single conformational ensemble at all denaturing conditions. The chemical unfolding of BBL was then manifested by the gradual change of this unique ensemble, which shifts from high to low FRET efficiency and becomes broader at increasing denaturant. Furthermore, using detailed quantitative analysis, we could rule out the possibility that the BBL single-molecule data are produced by partly overlapping folded and unfolded peaks. Thus, our results demonstrate the one-state downhill folding regime at the single-molecule level and highlight that this folding scenario is not necessarily associated with ultrafast kinetics.
Project description:A complete description of how a protein folds requires the characterization of intermediate conformations traversed during the folding transition. We have calculated dynamics trajectories of a simplified model of the Fyn SH3 domain with a native-centric potential energy function. Analysis of the resulting site-resolved energy trajectory identifies an ensemble of intermediate conformations for folding and another for unfolding. The model's folding intermediate is structured in the three beta-strands that make up the protein's core and is strikingly similar to intermediates detected in a recent NMR study of Fyn SH3 folding and to folding transition states elucidated in mutagenesis studies of SH3 domains. The unfolding intermediate is formed by dissociation of the folded protein's two terminal beta-strands from its core. The presence of such an intermediate is consistent with the results of a protein-engineering study on the src SH3 domain showing that these strands separate before the rate-limiting step of unfolding. Despite the presence of these conformations intermediate between the native and fully unfolded states, the computed heat capacity vs. temperature profile of the model protein indicates that its thermodynamics satisfies the usual calorimetric criterion for two-state folding. This observation highlights the fact that, if not properly interpreted, methods such as calorimetry that do not probe multiple sites in a molecule can lead to an oversimplified view of folding. The close agreement between results from this simplified model and experimental work underscores the important contributions that computational methods can make in providing insights into protein folding.
Project description:We studied the microsecond folding dynamics of three beta hairpins (Trp zippers 1-3, TZ1-TZ3) by using temperature-jump fluorescence and atomistic molecular dynamics in implicit solvent. In addition, we studied TZ2 by using time-resolved IR spectroscopy. By using distributed computing, we obtained an aggregate simulation time of 22 ms. The simulations included 150, 212, and 48 folding events at room temperature for TZ1, TZ2, and TZ3, respectively. The all-atom optimized potentials for liquid simulations (OPLS(aa)) potential set predicted TZ1 and TZ2 properties well; the estimated folding rates agreed with the experimentally determined folding rates and native conformations were the global potential-energy minimum. The simulations also predicted reasonable unfolding activation enthalpies. This work, directly comparing large simulated folding ensembles with multiple spectroscopic probes, revealed both the surprising predictive ability of current models as well as their shortcomings. Specifically, for TZ1-TZ3, OPLS for united atom models had a nonnative free-energy minimum, and the folding rate for OPLS(aa) TZ3 was sensitive to the initial conformation. Finally, we characterized the transition state; all TZs fold by means of similar, native-like transition-state conformations.
Project description:Transient two-dimensional infrared (2D IR) spectroscopy is used as a probe of protein unfolding dynamics in a direct comparison of fast unfolding experiments with molecular dynamics simulations. In the experiments, the unfolding of ubiquitin is initiated by a laser temperature jump, and protein structural evolution from nanoseconds to milliseconds is probed using amide I 2D IR spectroscopy. The temperature jump prepares a subensemble near the unfolding transition state, leading to quasi-barrierless unfolding (the "burst phase") before the millisecond activated unfolding kinetics. The burst phase unfolding of ubiquitin is characterized by a loss of the coupling between vibrations of the beta-sheet, a process that manifests itself in the 2D IR spectrum as a frequency blue-shift and intensity decrease of the diagonal and cross-peaks of the sheet's two IR active modes. As the sheet unfolds, increased fluctuations and solvent exposure of the beta-sheet amide groups are also characterized by increases in homogeneous linewidth. Experimental spectra are compared with 2D IR spectra calculated from the time-evolving structures in a molecular dynamics simulation of ubiquitin unfolding. Unfolding is described as a sequential unfolding of strands in ubiquitin's beta-sheet, using two collective coordinates of the sheet: (i) the native interstrand contacts between adjacent beta-strands I and II and (ii) the remaining beta-strand contacts within the sheet. The methods used illustrate the general principles by which 2D IR spectroscopy can be used for detailed dynamical comparisons of experiment and simulation.
Project description:The widely used Arrhenius equation describes the kinetics of simple two-state reactions, with the implicit assumption of a single transition state with a well-defined activation energy barrier DeltaE, as the rate-limiting step. However, it has become increasingly clear that the saddle point of the free-energy surface in most reactions is populated by ensembles of conformations, leading to nonexponential kinetics. Here we present a theory that generalizes the Arrhenius equation to include static disorder of conformational degrees of freedom as a function of an external perturbation to fully account for a diverse set of transition states. The effect of a perturbation on static disorder is best examined at the single-molecule level. Here we use force-clamp spectroscopy to study the nonexponential kinetics of single ubiquitin proteins unfolding under force. We find that the measured variance in DeltaE shows both force-dependent and independent components, where the force-dependent component scales with F(2), in excellent agreement with our theory. Our study illustrates a novel adaptation of the classical Arrhenius equation that accounts for the microscopic origins of nonexponential kinetics, which are essential in understanding the rapidly growing body of single-molecule data.
Project description:Differential scanning calorimetry, circular dichroism spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and numerical simulations were used to study the thermostability of the N-terminal RNA-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV nucleocapsid protein. The transition temperature of the RBD in a mixing buffer, composed of glycine, sodium acetate, and sodium phosphate with 100 mM sodium chloride, at pH 6.8, determined by differential scanning calorimetry and circular dichroism, is 48.74 degrees C. Experimental results showed that the thermal-induced unfolding-folding transition of the RBD follows a two-state model with a reversibility >90%. Using a simple G?-like model and Langevin dynamics we have shown that, in agreement with our experiments, the folding of the RBD is two-state. Theoretical estimates of thermodynamic quantities are in reasonable agreement with the experiments. Folding and thermal unfolding pathways of the RBD also were experimentally and numerically studied in detail. It was shown that the strand beta(1) from the N-terminal folds last and unfolds first, while the remaining beta-strands fold/unfold cooperatively.