Hierarchical protein folding pathways: A computational study of protein fragments

Nurit Haspel, Chung Jung Tsai, Haim Wolfson, Ruth Nussinov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have previously presented a building block folding model. The model postulates that protein folding is a hierarchical top-down process. The basic unit from which a fold is constructed, referred to as a hydrophobic folding unit, is the outcome of combinatorial assembly of a set of "building blocks." Results obtained by the computational cutting procedure yield fragments that are in agreement with those obtained experimentally by limited proteolysis. Here we show that as expected, proteins from the same family give very similar building blocks. However, different proteins can also give building blocks that are similar in structure. In such cases the building blocks differ in sequence, stability, contacts with other building blocks, and in their 3D locations in the protein structure. This result, which we have repeatedly observed in many cases, leads us to conclude that while a building block is influenced by its environment, nevertheless, it can be viewed as a standalone unit. For small-sized building blocks existing in multiple conformations, interactions with sister building blocks in the protein will increase the population time of the native conformer. With this conclusion in hand, it is possible to develop an algorithm that predicts the building block assignment of a protein sequence whose structure is unknown. Toward this goal, we have created sequentially nonredundant databases of building block sequences. A protein sequence can be aligned against these, in order to be matched to a set of potential building blocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2003


  • Building blocks
  • Folding complexity
  • Hierarchical folding
  • Protein folding
  • Protein fragments
  • Protein structure prediction


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