While it is widely appreciated that the denatured state of a protein is a heterogeneous conformational ensemble, there is still debate over how this ensemble changes with environmental conditions. Here, we use single-molecule chemo-mechanical unfolding, which combines force and urea using the optical tweezers, together with traditional protein unfolding studies to explore how perturbants commonly used to unfold proteins (urea, force, and temperature) affect the denatured-state ensemble. We compare the urea m-values, which report on the change in solvent accessible surface area for unfolding, to probe the denatured state as a function of force, temperature, and urea. We find that while the urea- and force-induced denatured states expose similar amounts of surface area, the denatured state at high temperature and low urea concentration is more compact. To disentangle these two effects, we use destabilizing mutations that shift the Tm and Cm. We find that the compaction of the denatured state is related to changing temperature as the different variants of acyl-coenzyme A binding protein have similar m-values when they are at the same temperature but different urea concentration. These results have important implications for protein folding and stability under different environmental conditions.
Journal of Molecular Biology – Elsevier
Published: Feb 16, 2018
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