A systematic study of the vibrational free energies of polypeptides in folded and random states

Buyong Ma, Chung Jung Tsai, Ruth Nussinov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Molecular vibrations, especially low frequency motions, may be used as an indication of the rigidity or the flatness of the protein folding energy landscape. We have studied the vibrational properties of native folded as well as random coil structures of more than 60 polypeptides. The picture we obtain allows us to perceive how and why the energy landscape progressively rigidifies while still allowing potential flexibility. Compared with random coil structures, both α-helices and β-hairpins are vibrationally more flexible. The vibrational properties of loop structures are similar to those of the corresponding random coil structures. Inclusion of an α-helix tends to rigidify peptides and so-called building blocks of the structure, whereas the addition of a β-structure has less effect. When small building blocks coalesce to form larger domains, the protein rigidifies. However, some folded native conformations are still found to be vibrationally more flexible than random coil structures, for example, β2-microglobulin and the SH3 domain. Vibrational free energy contributes significantly to the thermodynamics of protein folding and affects the distribution of the conformational substates. We found a weak correlation between the vibrational folding energy and the protein size, consistent with both previous experimental estimates and theoretical partition of the heat capacity change in protein folding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2739-2753
Number of pages15
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000


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