Author(s): Mirny LA, Abkevich VI, Shakhnovich EI
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Abstract Sequences of fast-folding model proteins (48 residues long on a cubic lattice) were generated by an evolution-like selection toward fast folding. We find that fast-folding proteins exhibit a specific folding mechanism in which all transition state conformations share a smaller subset of common contacts (folding nucleus). Acceleration of folding was accompanied by dramatic strengthening of interactions in the folding nucleus whereas average energy of nonnucleus interactions remained largely unchanged. Furthermore, the residues involved in the nucleus are the most conserved ones within families of evolved sequences. Our results imply that for each protein structure there is a small number of conserved positions that are key determinants of fast folding into that structure. This conjecture was tested on two protein superfamilies: the first having the classical monophosphate binding fold (CMBF; 98 families) and the second having type-III repeat fold (47 families). For each superfamily, we discovered a few positions that exhibit very strong and statistically significant "conservatism of conservatism"-amino acids in those positions are conserved within every family whereas the actual types of amino acids varied from family to family. Those amino acids are in spatial contact with each other. The experimental data of Serrano and coworkers [Lopez-Hernandez, E. & Serrano, L. (1996) Fold. Des. (London) 1, 43-55]. for one of the proteins of the CMBF superfamily (CheY) show that residues identified this way indeed belong to the folding nucleus. Further analysis revealed deep connections between nucleation in CMBF proteins and their function.
This article was published in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
and referenced in Journal of Computer Science & Systems Biology