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How do chemical denaturants affect the mechanical folding and unfolding of proteins?

TitleHow do chemical denaturants affect the mechanical folding and unfolding of proteins?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsCao, Y, Li, H
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Date PublishedJan
ISBN Number0022-2836

We present the first single-molecule atomic force microscopy study on the effect of chemical denaturants on the mechanical folding/Unfolding kinetics of a small protein GB1 (the B1 immunoglobulin-binding domain of protein G from Streptococcus). Upon increasing the concentration of the chemical denaturant guanidinium chloride (GdmCl), we observed a systematic decrease in the mechanical stability of GB1, indicating the softening effect of the chemical denaturant on the mechanical stability of proteins. This mechanical softening effect originates from the reduced free-energy barrier between the folded state and the unfolding transition state, which decreases linearly as a function of the denaturant concentration. Chemical denaturants, however, do not alter the mechanical unfolding pathway or shift the position of the transition state for mechanical unfolding. We also found that the folding rate constant of GB1 is slowed down by GdmCl in mechanical folding experiments. By combining the mechanical folding/unfolding kinetics of GB1 in GdmCl solution, we developed the "mechanical chevron plot" as a general tool to understand how chemical denaturants influence the mechanical folding/unfolding kinetics and free-energy diagram in a quantitative fashion. This study demonstrates great potential in combining chemical denaturation with single-molecule atomic force microscopy techniques to reveal invaluable information on the energy landscape underlying protein folding/unfolding reactions. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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