How force unfolding differs from chemical denaturation.

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TitleHow force unfolding differs from chemical denaturation.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsStirnemann G, Kang S-gu, Zhou R, Berne BJ
JournalProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.s.a
KeywordsChemical, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Models, Molecular Dynamics Simulation, Protein Conformation, Protein Denaturation, Protein Folding, Protein Unfolding, Ubiquitin, Ubiquitin: chemistry, Urea, Urea: chemistry

Single-molecule force spectroscopies are remarkable tools for studying protein folding and unfolding, but force unfolding explores protein configurations that are potentially very different from the ones traditionally explored in chemical or thermal denaturation. Understanding these differences is crucial because such configurations serve as starting points of folding studies, and thus can affect both the folding mechanism and the kinetics. Here we provide a detailed comparison of both chemically induced and force-induced unfolded state ensembles of ubiquitin based on extensive, all-atom simulations of the protein either extended by force or denatured by urea. As expected, the respective unfolded states are very different on a macromolecular scale, being fully extended under force with no contacts and partially extended in urea with many nonnative contacts. The amount of residual secondary structure also differs: A significant population of $\alpha$-helices is found in chemically denatured configurations but such helices are absent under force, except at the lowest applied force of 30 pN where short helices form transiently. We see that typical-size helices are unstable above this force, and $\beta$-sheets cannot form. More surprisingly, we observe striking differences in the backbone dihedral angle distributions for the protein unfolded under force and the one unfolded by denaturant. A simple model based on the dialanine peptide is shown to not only provide an explanation for these striking differences but also illustrates how the force dependence of the protein dihedral angle distributions give rise to the worm-like chain behavior of the chain upon force.

Citation Key2014|1751