Specificity of the Initial Collapse in the Folding of the Cold Shock Protein

Christine Magg, Jan Kubelka, Georg Holtermann, Elisha Haas, Franz X. Schmid

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The two-state folding reaction of the cold shock protein from Bacillus caldolyticus (Bc-Csp) is preceded by a rapid chain collapse. A fast shortening of intra-protein distances was revealed by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) measurements with protein variants that carried individual pairs of donor and acceptor chromophores at various positions along the polypeptide chain. Here we investigated the specificity of this rapid compaction. Energy transfer experiments that probed the stretching of strand β2 and the close approach between the strands β1 and β2 revealed that the β1-β2 hairpin is barely formed in the collapsed form, although it is native-like in the folding transition state of Bc-Csp. The time course of the collapse could not be resolved by pressure or temperature jump experiments, indicating that the collapsed and extended forms are not separated by an energy barrier. The co-solute (NH4)2SO4 stabilizes both native Bc-Csp and the collapsed form, which suggests that the large hydrated SO42- ions are excluded from the surface of the collapsed form in a similar fashion as they are excluded from folded Bc-Csp. Ethylene glycol increases the stability of proteins because it is excluded preferentially from the backbone, which is accessible in the unfolded state. The collapsed form of Bc-Csp resembles the unfolded form in its interaction with ethylene glycol, suggesting that in the collapsed form the backbone is still accessible to water and small molecules. Our results thus rule out that the collapsed form is a folding intermediate with native-like chain topology. It is better described as a mixture of compact conformations that belong to the unfolded state ensemble. However, some of its structural elements are reminiscent of the native protein.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1067-1080
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 28 Jul 2006


  • fluorescence energy transfer
  • folding intermediates
  • folding kinetics
  • intra-molecular distances
  • protein folding


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