Indexed on: 26 Mar '98Published on: 26 Mar '98Published in: Protein Science
The folding of large, multidomain proteins involves the hierarchical assembly of individual domains. It remains unclear whether the stability and folding of small, single-domain proteins occurs through a comparable assembly of small, autonomous folding units. We have investigated the relationship between two subdomains of the protein T4 lysozyme. Thermodynamically, T4 lysozyme behaves as a cooperative unit and the unfolding transition fits a two-state model. The structure of the protein, however, resembles a dumbbell with two potential subdomains: an N-terminal subdomain (residues 13-75), and a C-terminal subdomain (residues 76-164 and 1-12). To investigate the effect of uncoupling these two subdomains within the context of the native protein, we created two circular permutations, both at the subdomain interface (residues 13 and 75). Both variants adopt an active wild-type T4 lysozyme fold. The protein starting with residue 13 is 3 kcal/mol less stable than wild type, whereas the protein beginning at residue 75 is 9 kcal/mol less stable, suggesting that the placement of the termini has a major effect on protein stability while minimally affecting the fold. When isolated as protein fragments, the C-terminal subdomain folds into a marginally stable helical structure, whereas the N-terminal subdomain is predominantly unfolded. ANS fluorescence studies indicate that, at low pH, the C-terminal subdomain adopts a loosely packed acid state. An acid state intermediate is also seen for all of the full-length variants. We propose that this acid state is comprised of an unfolded N-terminal subdomain and a loosely folded C-terminal subdomain.