[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cytochromes c (Cyt c) are ubiquitous heme-containing proteins, mainly involved in electron transfer processes, whose structure and functions have been and still are intensely studied. Surprisingly, our understanding of the molecular mechanism whereby the heme group is covalently attached to the apoprotein (apoCyt) in the cell is still largely unknown. This posttranslational process, known as Cyt c biogenesis or Cyt c maturation, ensures the stereospecific formation of the thioether bonds between the heme vinyl groups and the cysteine thiols of the apoCyt heme binding motif. To accomplish this task, prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells have evolved distinctive protein machineries composed of different proteins. In this review, the structural and functional properties of the main maturation apparatuses found in gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria and in the mitochondria of eukaryotic cells will be presented, dissecting the Cyt c maturation process into three functional steps: (i) heme translocation and delivery, (ii) apoCyt thioreductive pathway, and (iii) apoCyt chaperoning and heme ligation. Moreover, current hypotheses and open questions about the molecular mechanisms of each of the three steps will be discussed, with special attention to System I, the maturation apparatus found in gram-negative bacteria.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The biogenesis of c-type cytochromes (Cytc) is a process that in Gram-negative bacteria demands the coordinated action of different periplasmic proteins (CcmA-I), whose specific roles are still being investigated. Activities of Ccm proteins span from the chaperoning of heme b in the periplasm to the specific reduction of oxidized apocytochrome (apoCyt) cysteine residues and to chaperoning and recognition of the unfolded apoCyt before covalent attachment of the heme to the cysteine thiols can occur. We present here the functional characterization of the periplasmic domain of CcmI from the pathogen P. aeruginosa (Pa-CcmI*). Pa-CcmI* is composed of a TPR domain and a peculiar C-terminal domain. Pa-CcmI* fulfills both the ability to recognize and bind to P. aeruginosa apo-cytochrome c551 (Pa-apoCyt) and a chaperoning activity towards unfolded proteins, as it prevents citrate synthase aggregation in a concentration-dependent manner. Equilibrium and kinetic experiments with Pa-CcmI*, or its isolated domains, with peptides mimicking portions of Pa-apoCyt sequence allow us to quantify the molecular details of the interaction between Pa-apoCyt and Pa-CcmI*. Binding experiments show that the interaction occurs at the level of the TPR domain and that the recognition is mediated mainly by the C-terminal sequence of Pa-apoCyt. The affinity of Pa-CcmI* to full-length Pa-apoCyt or to its C-terminal sequence is in the range expected for a component of a multi-protein complex, whose task is to receive the apoCyt and to deliver it to other components of the apoCyt:heme b ligation protein machinery.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Much experimental work has been devoted in comparing the folding behavior of proteins sharing the same fold but different sequence. The recent design of proteins displaying very high sequence identities but different 3D structure allows the unique opportunity to address the protein-folding problem from a complementary perspective. Here we explored by Φ-value analysis the pathways of folding of three different heteromorphic pairs, displaying increasingly high-sequence identity (namely, 30%, 77%, and 88%), but different structures called G(A) (a 3-α helix fold) and G(B) (an α/β fold). The analysis, based on 132 site-directed mutants, is fully consistent with the idea that protein topology is committed very early along the pathway of folding. Furthermore, data reveals that when folding approaches a perfect two-state scenario, as in the case of the G(A) domains, the structural features of the transition state appear very robust to changes in sequence composition. On the other hand, when folding is more complex and multistate, as for the G(B)s, there are alternative nuclei or accessible pathways that can be alternatively stabilized by altering the primary structure. The implications of our results in the light of previous work on the folding of different members belonging to the same protein family are discussed.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 05/2012; 109(44). DOI:10.1073/pnas.1201794109 · 9.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Current knowledge on the reaction whereby a protein acquires its native three-dimensional structure was obtained by and large through characterization of the folding mechanism of simple systems. Given the multiplicity of amino acid sequences and unique folds, it is not so easy, however, to draw general rules by comparing folding pathways of different proteins. In fact, quantitative comparison may be jeopardized not only because of the vast repertoire of sequences but also in view of a multiplicity of structures of the native and denatured states. We have tackled the problem of the relationships between the sequence information and the folding pathway of a protein, using a combination of kinetics, protein engineering and computational methods, applied to relatively simple systems. Our strategy has been to investigate the folding mechanism determinants using two complementary approaches, i.e. (i) the study of members of the same family characterized by a common fold, but substantial differences in amino acid sequence, or (ii) heteromorphic pairs characterized by largely identical sequences but with different folds. We discuss some recent data on protein-folding mechanisms by presenting experiments on different members of the PDZ domain family and their circularly permuted variants. Characterization of the energetics and structures of intermediates and TSs (transition states), obtained by Φ-value analysis and restrained MD (molecular dynamics) simulations, provides a glimpse of the malleability of the dynamic states and of the role of the topology of the native states and of the denatured states in dictating folding and misfolding pathways.
Biochemical Society Transactions 04/2012; 40(2):429-32. DOI:10.1042/BST20110683 · 3.19 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cytochrome c contains heme covalently bound to the polypeptide chain through two thioether bonds between the heme vinyl groups and the two cysteines of the conserved heme-binding motif of the apoprotein. Surprisingly, the biochemical events leading to the synthesis of the functional holoprotein in the cell are largely unknown. In the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the biogenesis of Cytc is mediated by a group of membrane or membrane-anchored proteins (CcmABCDEFGHI), exposing their active site to the periplasm. The Ccm proteins involved in the necessary reduction of apoCyt disulfide bond are CcmG and CcmH. Here we present the structural and functional characterization of these two redox-active proteins. We determined the crystal structure of CcmG, both in the oxidized and the reduced state. CcmG is a membrane-anchored thioredoxin-like protein acting as a mild reductant in the redox pathway of Cytc biogenesis. The 3D structure of the soluble periplasmic domain of CcmH revealed that it adopts a peculiar three-helix bundle fold that is different from that of canonical thiol-oxidoreductases. Moreover, we present protein-protein interaction experiments aiming at elucidating the molecular mechanism of the reduction of apoCyt disulfide bond for heme attachment in vivo. On the basis of the structural and functional data on CcmG, CcmH and their interactions, we propose an assembly line for Cytc biogenesis in P. aeruginosa in which reduced CcmH specifically recognizes, binds and reduces oxidized apoCyt via the formation of a mixed disulfide complex, which is subsequently resolved by CcmG.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The folding pathway of the small α/β protein GB1 has been extensively studied during the past two decades using both theoretical and experimental approaches. These studies provided a consensus view that the protein folds in a two-state manner. Here, we reassessed the folding of GB1, both by experiments and simulations, and detected the presence of an on-pathway intermediate. This intermediate has eluded earlier experimental characterization and is distinct from the collapsed state previously identified using ultrarapid mixing. Failure to identify the presence of an intermediate affects some of the conclusions that have been drawn for GB1, a popular model for protein folding studies.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The protein folding problem is often studied by comparing the mechanisms of proteins sharing the same structure but different sequence. The recent design of the two proteins G(A)88 and G(B)88, displaying different structures and functions while sharing 88% sequence identity (49 out of 56 amino acids), allows the unique opportunity for a complementary approach. At which stage of its folding pathway does a protein commit to a given topology? Which residues are crucial in directing folding mechanisms to a given structure? By using a combination of biophysical and computational techniques, we have characterized the folding of both G(A)88 and G(B)88. We show that, contrary to expectation, G(B)88, characterized by a native α+β fold, displays in the denatured state a content of native-like helical structure greater than G(A)88, which is all-α in its native state. Both experiments and simulations indicate that such residual structure may be tuned by changing pH. Thus, despite the high sequence identity, the folding pathways for these two proteins appear to diverge as early as in the denatured state. Our results suggest a mechanism whereby protein topology is committed very early along the folding pathway, being imprinted in the residual structure of the denatured state.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Incorrectly folded states transiently populated during the protein folding process are potentially prone to aggregation and have been implicated in a range of misfolding disorders that include Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Despite their importance, however, the structures of these states and the mechanism of their formation have largely escaped detailed characterization because of their short-lived nature. Here we present the structures of all the major states involved in the folding process of a PDZ domain, which include an off-pathway misfolded intermediate. By using a combination of kinetic, protein engineering, biophysical and computational techniques, we show that the misfolded intermediate is characterized by an alternative packing of the N-terminal β-hairpin onto an otherwise native-like scaffold. Our results suggest a mechanism of formation of incorrectly folded transient compact states by which misfolded structural elements are assembled together with more extended native-like regions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The cytochrome c maturation process is carried out in the bacterial periplasm, where some specialized thiol-disulfide oxidoreductases work in close synergy for the correct reduction of oxidized apocytochrome before covalent heme attachment. We present a structural and functional characterization of the soluble periplasmic domain of CcmG from the opportunistic pathogen P. aeruginosa (Pa-CcmG), a component of the protein machinery involved in cyt c maturation in gram-negative bacteria. X-ray crystallography reveals that Pa-CcmG is a TRX-like protein; high-resolution crystal structures show that the oxidized and the reduced forms of the enzyme are identical except for the active-site disulfide. The standard redox potential was calculated to be E(0') = -0.213 V at pH 7.0; the pK(a) of the active site thiols were pK(a) = 6.13 +/- 0.05 for the N-terminal Cys74 and pK(a) = 10.5 +/- 0.17 for the C-terminal Cys77. Experiments were carried out to characterize and isolate the mixed disulfide complex between Pa-CcmG and Pa-CcmH (the other redox active component of System I in P. aeruginosa). Our data indicate that the target disulfide of this TRX-like protein is not the intramolecular disulfide of oxidized Pa-CcmH, but the intermolecular disulfide formed between Cys28 of Pa-CcmH and DTNB used for the in vitro experiments. This observation suggests that, in vivo, the physiological substrate of Pa-CcmG may be the mixed-disulfide complex between Pa-CcmH and apo-cyt.
Proteins Structure Function and Bioinformatics 08/2010; 78(10):2213-21. DOI:10.1002/prot.22733 · 2.63 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To understand the role of sequence connectivity in protein folding pathways, we explored by Phi-value analysis the folding pathway of an engineered circularly permuted PDZ domain. This variant has the same sequence connectivity as naturally occurring circularly permuted PDZ domains and displays a symmetrical distribution of secondary structure elements (i.e., beta beta alpha beta beta alpha beta beta) while maintaining the same tertiary interactions of the well-characterized second PDZ domain from PTP-BL (PDZ2). Reliable Phi values were obtained for both a low-energy intermediate and the late rate-limiting transition state, allowing a description of both early and late events in folding. A comparison with Phi values obtained for wild-type PDZ2 reveals that while the structure of the late transition state is robust and unaffected by circular permutation, the folding intermediate is stabilized by a different nucleus involving residues located at the new N- and C-termini. The results suggest that folding is driven by competing nuclei whose stabilities may be selectively tuned by circular permutation.
Journal of the American Chemical Society 09/2009; 131(33):11727-33. DOI:10.1021/ja900438b · 12.11 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Amyloid fibril formation is a distinctive hallmark of a number of degenerative diseases. In this process, protein monomers self-assemble to form insoluble structures that are generally referred to as amyloid fibrils. We have induced in vitro amyloid fibril formation of a PDZ domain by combining mechanical agitation and high ionic strength under conditions otherwise close to physiological (pH 7.0, 37 degrees C, no added denaturants). The resulting aggregates enhance the fluorescence of the thioflavin T dye via a sigmoidal kinetic profile. Both infrared spectroscopy and circular dichroism spectroscopy detect the formation of a largely intermolecular beta-sheet structure. Atomic force microscopy shows straight, rod-like fibrils that are similar in appearance and height to mature amyloid-like fibrils. Under these conditions, before aggregation, the protein domain adopts an essentially native-like structure and an even higher conformational stability (DeltaG(U-F)(H2O)). These results show a new method for converting initially folded proteins into amyloid-like aggregates. The methodological approach used here does not require denaturing conditions; rather, it couples agitation with a high ionic strength. Such an approach offers new opportunities to investigate protein aggregation under conditions in which a globular protein is initially folded, and to elucidate the physical forces that promote amyloid fibril formation.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The description of protein folding pathways and the principles that govern them has proven to be one of the most difficult problems to be solved in structural biology. But the combination of experiments and simulations has now provided a clearer picture of the chemistry involved. Once folded, however, proteins remain dynamic systems making possible both small-scale and large-scale structural and/or dynamical changes upon binding or releasing of ligands and during catalysis. In this review we focus on recent advances in the field of protein folding and discuss possible links between folding, stability, and binding dynamics.
Current Opinion in Structural Biology 02/2009; 19(1):3-7. DOI:10.1016/j.sbi.2008.12.001 · 7.20 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The energy landscape theory provides a general framework for describing protein folding reactions. Because a large number of studies, however, have focused on two-state proteins with single well-defined folding pathways and without detectable intermediates, the extent to which free energy landscapes are shaped up by the native topology at the early stages of the folding process has not been fully characterized experimentally. To this end, we have investigated the folding mechanisms of two homologous three-state proteins, PTP-BL PDZ2 and PSD-95 PDZ3, and compared the early and late transition states on their folding pathways. Through a combination of Phi value analysis and molecular dynamics simulations we obtained atomic-level structures of the transition states of these homologous three-state proteins and found that the late transition states are much more structurally similar than the early ones. Our findings thus reveal that, while the native state topology defines essentially in a unique way the late stages of folding, it leaves significant freedom to the early events, a result that reflects the funneling of the free energy landscape toward the native state.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 12/2008; 105(49):19241-6. DOI:10.1073/pnas.0804774105 · 9.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Understanding the mechanism by which a polypeptide chain folds into its native structure is a central problem of modern biophysics. The collaborative efforts of experimental and theoretical studies recently raised the tantalizing possibility to define a unifying mechanism for protein folding. In this review we summarize some of these intriguing advances and analyze them together with a discussion on the new findings concerning the so-called downhill folding.
European Biophysics Journal 08/2008; 37(6):721-8. DOI:10.1007/s00249-007-0256-x · 2.22 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The acylphosphatase from Escherichia coli (EcoAcP) is the first AcP so far studied with a disulfide bond. A mutational variant of the enzyme lacking the disulfide bond has been produced by substituting the two cysteine residues with alanine (EcoAcP mutational variant C5A/C49A, mutEcoAcP). The native states of the two protein variants are similar, as shown by far-UV and near-UV circular dichroism and dynamic light-scattering measurements. From unfolding experiments at equilibrium using intrinsic fluorescence and far-UV circular dichroism as probes, EcoAcP shows an increased conformational stability as compared with mutEcoAcP. The wild-type protein folds according to a two-state model with a very fast rate constant (k(F)(H2O)=72,600 s(-1)), while mutEcoAcP folds ca 1500-fold slower, via the accumulation of a partially folded species. The correlation between the hydrophobicity of the polypeptide chain and the folding rate, found previously in the AcP-like structural family, is maintained only when considering the mutant but not the wild-type protein, which folds much faster than expected from this correlation. Similarly, the correlation between the relative contact order and the folding rate holds only for mutEcoAcP. The correlation also holds for EcoAcP, provided the relative contact order value is recalculated by considering the disulfide bridge as an alternate path for the backbone to determine the shortest sequence separation between contacting residues. These results indicate that the presence of a disulfide bond in a protein is an important determinant of the folding rate and allows its contribution to be determined in quantitative terms.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: One of the most extreme and fascinating examples of naturally occurring mutagenesis is represented by circular permutation. Circular permutations involve the linking of two chain ends and cleavage at another site. Here we report the first description of the folding mechanism of a naturally occurring circularly permuted protein, a PDZ domain from the green alga Scenedesmus obliquus. Data reveal that the folding of the permuted protein is characterized by the presence of a low energy off-pathway kinetic trap. This finding contrasts with what was previously observed for canonical PDZ domains that, although displaying a similar primary structure when structurally re-aligned, fold via an on-pathway productive intermediate. Although circular permutation of PDZ domains may be necessary for a correct orientation of their functional sites in multi-domain protein scaffolds, such structural rearrangement may compromise their folding pathway. This study provides a straightforward example of the divergent demands of folding and function.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To understand the role of sequence connectivity in the folding pathway of a multi-state protein, we have analysed the folding kinetics of an engineered circularly permuted PDZ domain. This variant has been designed with the specific aim of posing two of the strands participating in the stabilisation of an early folding nucleus as contiguous elements in the primary structure. Folding of the circularly permuted PDZ2 has been explored by a variety of different experimental approaches including stopped-flow and continuous-flow kinetics, as well as ligand-induced folding experiments. Data reveal that although circular permutation introduces a significant destabilisation of the native state, a folding intermediate is stabilised and accumulated prior folding. Furthermore, quantitative analysis of the observed kinetics indicates an acceleration of the early folding events by more than two orders of magnitude. The results support the importance of sequence connectivity both in the mechanism and the speed of protein folding.
Protein Engineering Design and Selection 04/2008; 21(3):155-60. DOI:10.1093/protein/gzm077 · 2.54 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It is generally accepted that in the c-type cytochromes the covalently bound heme plays a primary role in the acquisition of the folded state. Here, we show that a stabilized site-directed variant of apo-cyt c551 from Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa-apocyt F7A/W77F) retains native-like features in the presence of sodium sulfate even in the absence of heme. By time-resolved intrinsic fluorescence, we have evidence that Pa-apocyt F7A/W77F may acquire a compact, native-like conformation within microseconds. These results challenge current thinking about the role of the heme group in the folding of c-type cytochromes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Proteins may fold via parallel routes partitioned by the relative effect of solvent conditions on the relevant transition states. Thus, intermediates may or may not necessarily be obligatory species accumulated during the folding process, but rather kinetic traps due to the ruggedness of the folding landscape. Implicit in this view is the notion of plasticity of the folding pathway: proteins can be rerouted through the energy landscape by mutational, topological or solvent perturbations. Our work was specifically aimed to the experimental identification of a switch in the folding mechanism of a c-type cytochrome from the thermophilic bacterium Hydrogenobacter thermophilus (HT cyt c(552)) induced by acidic conditions. We present evidence that, by destabilizing the relevant transition state, the native state of HT cyt c(552) can be reached along alternative folding routes, which may involve an off-pathway intermediate.
Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 11/2007; 466(2):172-6. DOI:10.1016/j.abb.2007.06.014 · 3.02 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: CcmH (cytochromes c maturation protein H) is an essential component of the assembly line necessary for the maturation of c-type cytochromes in the periplasm of Gram-negative bacteria. The protein is a membrane-anchored thiol-oxidoreductase that has been hypothesized to be involved in the recognition and reduction of apocytochrome c, a prerequisite for covalent heme attachment. Here, we present the 1.7A crystal structure of the soluble periplasmic domain of CcmH from the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa-CcmH*). The protein contains a three-helix bundle, i.e. a fold that is different from that of all other thiol-oxidoreductases reported so far. The catalytic Cys residues of the conserved LRCXXC motif (Cys(25) and Cys(28)), located in a long loop connecting the first two helices, form a disulfide bond in the oxidized enzyme. We have determined the pK(a) values of these 2 Cys residues of Pa-CcmH* (both >8) and propose a possible mechanistic role for a conserved Ser(36) and a water molecule in the active site. The interaction between Pa-CcmH* and Pa-apocyt c(551) (where cyt c(551) represents cytochrome c(551)) was characterized in vitro following the binding kinetics by stopped-flow using a Trp-containing fluorescent variant of Pa-CcmH* and a dansylated peptide, mimicking the apocytochrome c(551) heme binding motif. The kinetic results show that the protein has a moderate affinity to its apocyt substrate, consistent with the role of Pa-CcmH as an intermediate component of the assembly line for c-type cytochrome biogenesis.