Folding Kinetics of Staphylococcal Nuclease Studied by Tryptophan Engineering and Rapid Mixing Methods

Division of Basic Science, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA 19111, USA.
Journal of Molecular Biology (Impact Factor: 4.33). 04/2007; 368(1):244-55. DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2007.02.006
Source: PubMed


To monitor the development of tertiary structural contacts during folding, a unique tryptophan residue was introduced at seven partially buried locations (residues 15, 27, 61, 76, 91, 102 and 121) of a tryptophan-free variant of staphylococcal nuclease (P47G/P117G/H124L/W140H). Thermal unfolding measurements by circular dichroism indicate that the variants are destabilized, but maintain the ability to fold into a native-like structure. For the variants with Trp at positions 15, 27 and 61, the intrinsic fluorescence is significantly quenched in the native state due to close contact with polar side-chains that act as intramolecular quenchers. All other variants exhibit enhanced fluorescence under native conditions consistent with burial of the tryptophan residues in an apolar environment. The kinetics of folding was observed by continuous and stopped-flow fluorescence measurements over refolding times ranging from 100 micros to 10 s. The folding kinetics of all variants is quantitatively described by a mechanism involving a major pathway with a series of intermediate states and a minor parallel channel. The engineered tryptophan residues in the beta-barrel and the N-terminal part of the alpha-helical domain become partially shielded from the solvent at an early stage (<1 ms), indicating that this region undergoes a rapid collapse. For some variants, a major increase in fluorescence coincides with the rate-limiting step of folding on the 100 ms time scale, indicating that these tryptophan residues are buried only during the late stages of folding. Other variants exhibit a transient increase in fluorescence during the 10 ms phase followed by a decrease during the rate-limiting phase. These observations are consistent with burial of these probes in a collapsed, but loosely packed intermediate, followed by the rate-limiting formation of the densely packed native core, which brings the tryptophan residues into close contact with intramolecular quenchers.

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