Fast closure of long loops at the initiation of the folding transition of globular proteins studied by time-resolved FRET-based methods

Tomer Orevi, Gil Rahamim, Sivan Shemesh, Eldad Ben Ishay, Dan Amir, Elisha Haas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The protein folding problem would be considered "solved" when it will be possible to "read genes", i.e., to predict the native fold of proteins, their dynamics, and the mechanism of fast folding based solely on sequence data. The long-term goal should be the creation of an algorithm that would simulate the stepwise mechanism of folding, which constrains the conformational space and in which random search for stable interactions is possible. Here, we focus attention on the initial phases of the folding transition starting with the compact disordered collapsed ensemble, in search of the initial sub-domain structural biases that direct the otherwise stochastic dynamics of the backbone. Our studies are designed to test the "loop hypothesis", which suggests that fast closure of long loop structures by non-local interactions between clusters of mainly non-polar residues is an essential conformational step at the initiation of the folding transition of globular proteins. We developed and applied experimental methods based on time-resolved resonance excitation energy transfer (trFRET) measurements combined with fast mixing methods and studied the initial phases of the folding of Escherichia coli adenylate kinase (AK). A series of AK mutants were prepared, in which the ends of selected backbone segments that form long closed loops or secondary structure elements were labeled by donors and acceptors of excitation energy. The end-to-end distance distributions of such segments were determined under equilibrium and during the fast folding transitions. These experiments show that three out of seven long loops that were labeled in the AK molecule are closed very early in the transition. The N terminal 26-residue loop (loop I) is closed in < 200 ìs after the initiation of folding, while the â strand included in loop I is still disordered. The closure of the second 44-residue loop (loop II, which starts at the end of loop I) is also complete within < 300 μs. Four other loops as well as five secondary structures of the CORE domain of AK (an α helix and four â strands) are formed at a late step, at a rate of 0.5 ± 0.3 s-1, the rate of the cooperative folding of the molecule. These experiments reveal a hierarchically ordered pathway of folding of the AK molecule, ranging from microseconds to seconds. The results reviewed here, obtained mainly from studying a small number of model proteins, support the counterintuitive mechanism whereby non-local interactions are effective in the initiation of the folding pathways. The experiments presented demonstrate the importance of mapping the rates of sub-domain structural transitions along the folding transition, in situ, in the context of the other sections of the chain, whether folded or disordered. These experiments also show the power of the time-resolved FRET measurements in achieving this goal. A large body of data obtained by theoretical and experimental studies that support, or can accommodate, the loop hypothesis is reviewed. We suggest that mapping multiple sub-domain structural transitions during the refolding transition of many proteins using the approach presented here will refine the conclusions and help reveal some common principles of the initiation of the folding. To achieve this goal, the trFRET measurements should be combined with mutagenesis experiments where the role of selected residue clusters will be tested by perturbation mutations. Nevertheless, the solution of the protein folding problem depends on the application of many additional approaches, both experimental and theoretical, while the approach presented here is only a small section of the big puzzle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-193
Number of pages25
JournalBio-Algorithms and Med-Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014


FundersFunder number
Israel Science FoundationISF1464/10, I-CORE 1902/12


    • FRET
    • Globular proteins
    • Long loops
    • Loop closure
    • Protein folding


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