Ubiquitination is one of the most common post-translational modifications of proteins, and mediates regulated protein degradation among other cellular processes. A fundamental question regarding the mechanism of protein ubiquitination is whether and how ubiquitin affects the biophysical nature of the modified protein. For some systems, it was shown that the position of ubiquitin within the attachment site is quite flexible and ubiquitin does not specifically interact with its substrate. Nevertheless, it was revealed that polyubiquitination can decrease the thermal stability of the modified protein in a site-specific manner because of alterations of the thermodynamic properties of the folded and unfolded states. In this study, we used detailed atomistic simulations to focus on the molecular effects of ubiquitination on the native structure of the modified protein. As a model, we used Ubc7, which is an E2 enzyme whose in vivo ubiquitination process is well characterized and known to lead to degradation. We found that, despite the lack of specific direct interactions between the ubiquitin moiety and Ubc7, ubiquitination decreases the conformational flexibility of certain regions of the substrate Ubc7 protein, which reduces its entropy and thus destabilizes it. The strongest destabilizing effect was observed for systems in which Lys48-linked tetra-ubiquitin was attached to sites used for in vivo degradation. These results reveal how changes in the configurational entropy of the folded state may modulate the stability of the protein's native state. Overall, our results imply that ubiquitination can modify the biophysical properties of the attached protein in the folded state and that, in some proteins, different ubiquitination sites will lead to different biophysical outcomes. We propose that this destabilizing effect of polyubiquitin on the substrate is linked to the functions carried out by the modification, and in particular, regulatory control of protein half-life through proteasomal degradation.
- molecular dynamics simulations
- multidomain protein
- native state dynamics