Understanding the mechanism of beta-hairpin folding via phi-value analysis.

Research paper by Deguo D Du, Matthew J MJ Tucker, Feng F Gai

Indexed on: 24 Feb '06Published on: 24 Feb '06Published in: Biochemistry


The folding kinetics of a 16-residue beta-hairpin (trpzip4) and five mutants were studied by a laser-induced temperature-jump infrared method. Our results indicate that mutations which affect the strength of the hydrophobic cluster lead to a decrease in the thermal stability of the beta-hairpin, as a result of increased unfolding rates. For example, the W45Y mutant has a phi-value of approximately zero, implying a folding transition state in which the native contacts involving Trp45 are not yet formed. On the other hand, mutations in the turn or loop region mostly affect the folding rate. In particular, replacing Asp46 with Ala leads to a decrease in the folding rate by roughly 9 times. Accordingly, the phi-value for D46A is determined to be approximately 0.77, suggesting that this residue plays a key role in stabilizing the folding transition state. This is most likely due to the fact that the main chain and side chain of Asp46 form a characteristic hydrogen bond network with other residues in the turn region. Taken together, these results support the folding mechanism we proposed before, which suggests that the turn formation is the rate-limiting step in beta-hairpin folding and, consequently, a stronger turn-promoting sequence increases the stability of a beta-hairpin primarily by increasing its folding rate, whereas a stronger hydrophobic cluster increases the stability of a beta-hairpin primarily by decreasing its unfolding rate. In addition, we have examined the compactness of the thermally denatured and urea-denatured states of another 16-residue beta-hairpin, using the method of fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Our results show that the thermally denatured state of this beta-hairpin is significantly more compact than the urea-denatured state, suggesting that the very first step in beta-hairpin folding, when initiated from an extended conformation, probably corresponds to a process of hydrophobic collapse.