Titration properties and thermodynamics of the transition state for folding: comparison of two-state and multi-state folding pathways.

Research paper by Y J YJ Tan, M M Oliveberg, A R AR Fersht

Indexed on: 29 Nov '96Published on: 29 Nov '96Published in: Journal of Molecular Biology


CI2 folds and unfolds as a single cooperative unit by simple two-state kinetics, which enables the properties of the transition state to be measured from both the forward and backward rate constants. We have examined how the free energy of the transition state for the folding of chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) changes with pH and temperature. In addition to the standard thermodynamic quantities, we have measured the overall acid-titration properties of the transition state and its heat capacity relative to both the denatured and native states. We were able to determine the latter by a method analogous to a well-established procedure for measuring the change in heat capacity for equilibrium unfolding: the enthalpy of activation of unfolding at different values of acid pH were plotted against the average temperature of each determination. Our results show that the transition state of CI2 has lost most of the electrostatic and van der Waals' interactions that are found in the native state, but it remains compact and this prevents water molecules from entering some parts of the hydrophobic core. The properties of the transition state of CI2 are then compared with the major folding transition state of the larger protein barnase, which folds by a multi-state mechanism, with the accumulation of a partly structured intermediate (Dphys or I). CI2 folds from a largely unstructured denatured state under physiological conditions via a transition state which is compact but relatively uniformly unstructured, with tertiary and secondary structure being formed in parallel. We term this an expanded pathway. Conversely, barnase folds from a largely structured denatured state in which elements of structure are well formed through a transition state that has islands of folded elements of structure. We term this a compact pathway. These two pathways may correspond to the two extreme ends of a continuous spectrum of protein folding mechanisms. Although the properties of the two transition states are very different, the activation barrier for folding (Dphys-->++) is very similar for both proteins.