Aromatic residues engineered into the beta-turn nucleation site of ubiquitin lead to a complex folding landscape, non-native side-chain interactions, and kinetic traps.

Research paper by Anita M AM Rea, Emma R ER Simpson, Jill K JK Meldrum, Huw E L HE Williams, Mark S MS Searle

Indexed on: 11 Nov '08Published on: 11 Nov '08Published in: Biochemistry


The fast folding of small proteins is likely to be the product of evolutionary pressures that balance the search for native-like contacts in the transition state with the minimum number of stable non-native interactions that could lead to partially folded states prone to aggregation and amyloid formation. We have investigated the effects of non-native interactions on the folding landscape of yeast ubiquitin by introducing aromatic substitutions into the beta-turn region of the N-terminal beta-hairpin, using both the native G-bulged type I turn sequence (TXTGK) as well as an engineered 2:2 XNGK type I' turn sequence. The N-terminal beta-hairpin is a recognized folding nucleation site in ubiquitin. The folding kinetics for wt-Ub (TLTGK) and the type I' turn mutant (TNGK) reveal only a weakly populated intermediate, however, substitution with X = Phe or Trp in either context results in a high propensity to form a stable compact intermediate where the initial U-->I collapse is visible as a distinct kinetic phase. The introduction of Trp into either of the two host turn sequences results in either complex multiphase kinetics with the possibility of parallel folding pathways, or formation of a highly compact I-state stabilized by non-native interactions that must unfold before refolding. Sequence substitutions with aromatic residues within a localized beta-turn capable of forming non-native hydrophobic contacts in both the native state and partially folded states has the undesirable consequence that folding is frustrated by the formation of stable compact intermediates that evolutionary pressures at the sequence level may have largely eliminated.