Studying pressure denaturation of a protein by molecular dynamics simulations.
ABSTRACT Many globular proteins unfold when subjected to several kilobars of hydrostatic pressure. This "unfolding-up-on-squeezing" is counter-intuitive in that one expects mechanical compression of proteins with increasing pressure. Molecular simulations have the potential to provide fundamental understanding of pressure effects on proteins. However, the slow kinetics of unfolding, especially at high pressures, eliminates the possibility of its direct observation by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Motivated by experimental results-that pressure denatured states are water-swollen, and theoretical results-that water transfer into hydrophobic contacts becomes favorable with increasing pressure, we employ a water insertion method to generate unfolded states of the protein Staphylococcal Nuclease (Snase). Structural characteristics of these unfolded states-their water-swollen nature, retention of secondary structure, and overall compactness-mimic those observed in experiments. Using conformations of folded and unfolded states, we calculate their partial molar volumes in MD simulations and estimate the pressure-dependent free energy of unfolding. The volume of unfolding of Snase is negative (approximately -60 mL/mol at 1 bar) and is relatively insensitive to pressure, leading to its unfolding in the pressure range of 1500-2000 bars. Interestingly, once the protein is sufficiently water swollen, the partial molar volume of the protein appears to be insensitive to further conformational expansion or unfolding. Specifically, water-swollen structures with relatively low radii of gyration have partial molar volume that are similar to that of significantly more unfolded states. We find that the compressibility change on unfolding is negligible, consistent with experiments. We also analyze hydration shell fluctuations to comment on the hydration contributions to protein compressibility. Our study demonstrates the utility of molecular simulations in estimating volumetric properties and pressure stability of proteins, and can be potentially extended for applications to protein complexes and assemblies.
- SourceAvailable from: Christian Roumestand[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: It has been known for nearly 100 years that pressure unfolds proteins, yet the physical basis of this effect is not understood. Unfolding by pressure implies that the molar volume of the unfolded state of a protein is smaller than that of the folded state. This decrease in volume has been proposed to arise from differences between the density of bulk water and water associated with the protein, from pressure-dependent changes in the structure of bulk water, from the loss of internal cavities in the folded states of proteins, or from some combination of these three factors. Here, using 10 cavity-containing variants of staphylococcal nuclease, we demonstrate that pressure unfolds proteins primarily as a result of cavities that are present in the folded state and absent in the unfolded one. High-pressure NMR spectroscopy and simulations constrained by the NMR data were used to describe structural and energetic details of the folding landscape of staphylococcal nuclease that are usually inaccessible with existing experimental approaches using harsher denaturants. Besides solving a 100-year-old conundrum concerning the detailed structural origins of pressure unfolding of proteins, these studies illustrate the promise of pressure perturbation as a unique tool for examining the roles of packing, conformational fluctuations, and water penetration as determinants of solution properties of proteins, and for detecting folding intermediates and other structural details of protein-folding landscapes that are invisible to standard experimental approaches.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 04/2012; 109(18):6945-50. · 9.74 Impact Factor