The denatured states of barnase that are induced by urea, acid, and high temperature and acid have been assigned and characterised by high resolution heteronuclear NMR. The assignment was completed using a combination of triple-resonance and magnetisation-transfer methods. The latter was facilitated by selecting a suitable mutant of barnase (Ile→Val51) which has an appropriate rate of interconversion between native and denatured states in urea. 3 J NH-C α H coupling constants were determined for pH and urea-denatured barnase and intrinsic "random coil" coupling constants are shown to be different for different residue types. All the denatured states are highly unfolded. But, a consistent series of weak correlations in chemical shift, NOESY and coupling constant data provides evidence that the acid-denatured state has some residual structure in regions that form the first and second helices and the central strands of β-sheet in the native protein. The acid/temperature-denatured states has less structure in these regions, and the urea-denatured state, less still. These observations may be combined with detailed analyses of the folding pathway of barnase from kinetic studies to illuminate the relevance of residual structure in the denatured states of proteins to the mechanism of protein folding. First, the folding of barnase is known to proceed in its later stages through structures in which the first helix and centre of the β-sheet are extensively formed. Thus, embryonic initiation sites for these do exist in the denatured states and so could well develop into true nuclei. Second, it has been clearly established that the second helix is unfolded in these later states, and so residual structure in this region of the protein is non-productive. These data fit a model of protein folding in which local nucleation sites are latent in the denatured state and develop only when they make interactions elsewhere in the protein that stabilise them during the folding process. Thus, studies of the structure of denatured states pinpoint where nucleation sites may be, and the kinetic and protein engineering studies show which ones are productive.
Journal of Molecular Biology – Elsevier
Published: Nov 24, 1995
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