Spontaneous Unfolding-Refolding of Fibronectin Type III Domains Assayed by Thiol Exchange: THERMODYNAMIC STABILITY CORRELATES WITH RATES OF UNFOLDING RATHER THAN FOLDING.
Globular proteins are not permanently folded but spontaneously unfold and refold on time scales that can span orders of magnitude for different proteins. A longstanding debate in the protein-folding field is whether unfolding rates or folding rates correlate to the stability of a protein. In the present study, we have determined the unfolding and folding kinetics of 10 FNIII domains. FNIII domains are one of the most common protein folds and are present in 2% of animal proteins. FNIII domains are ideal for this study because they have an identical seven-strand β-sandwich structure, but they vary widely in sequence and thermodynamic stability. We assayed thermodynamic stability of each domain by equilibrium denaturation in urea. We then assayed the kinetics of domain opening and closing by a technique known as thiol exchange. For this we introduced a buried Cys at the identical location in each FNIII domain and measured the kinetics of labeling with DTNB over a range of urea concentrations. A global fit of the kinetics data gave the kinetics of spontaneous unfolding and refolding in zero urea. We found that the folding rates were relatively similar, ∼0.1-1 s-1, for the different domains. The unfolding rates varied widely and correlated with thermodynamic stability. Our study is the first to address this question using a set of domains that are structurally homologous but evolved with widely varying sequence identity and thermodynamic stability. These data add new evidence that thermodynamic stability correlates primarily with unfolding rate rather than folding rate. The study also has implications for the question of whether opening of FNIII domains contributes to the stretching of fibronectin matrix fibrils.
Shah, R; Ohashi, T; Erickson, HP; Oas, TG
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