Intra-molecular chaperone: The role of the N-terminal in conformational selection and kinetic control

Chung Jung Tsai, Buyong Ma, Ruth Nussinov

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The vast majority of the proteins in nature are under thermodynamic control, consistent with the universally accepted notion that proteins exist in their thermodynamically most stable state. Yet, recently a number of examples of proteins whose fold is under kinetic control have come to light. Their functions and environments vary. The first among these are some proteases, discovered in the early 1990s. There, an N-terminal proregion is self-cleaved after the protein folded, leaving the remainder of the chain in a kinetically trapped state. A related scenario was observed for microcin J25, an antibacterial peptide. This peptide presents a trapped covalently knotted conformation. The third and the most recently discovered case is the multidrug-resistant transporter protein, P-glycoprotein. There, a synonymous 'silent' mutation leads to ribosome stalling with a consequent altered kinetically trapped state. Here we argue that in all three examples, the N-terminal plays the role of an intra-molecular chaperone, that is, the N-terminal conformation selects among all competing local conformations of a downstream segment. By providing a pattern, the N-terminal chaperone segment assists the protein folding process. If the N-terminal is subsequently cleaved, the protein can be under kinetic control, since it is trapped in a thermodynamically less-stable state.

Original languageEnglish
Article number013001
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


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