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Agam, Ganesh; Barth, Anders; Lamb, Don C. (2024): Folding pathway of a discontinuous two-domain protein. Nature Communications, 15 (1). ISSN 2041-1723

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It is estimated that two-thirds of all proteins in higher organisms are composed of multiple domains, many of them containing discontinuous folds. However, to date, most in vitro protein folding studies have focused on small, single-domain proteins. As a model system for a two-domain discontinuous protein, we study the unfolding/refolding of a slow-folding double mutant of the maltose binding protein (DM-MBP) using single-molecule two- and three-color Förster Resonance Energy Transfer experiments. We observe a dynamic folding intermediate population in the N-terminal domain (NTD), C-terminal domain (CTD), and at the domain interface. The dynamic intermediate fluctuates rapidly between unfolded states and compact states, which have a similar FRET efficiency to the folded conformation. Our data reveals that the delayed folding of the NTD in DM-MBP is imposed by an entropic barrier with subsequent folding of the highly dynamic CTD. Notably, accelerated DM-MBP folding is routed through the same dynamic intermediate within the cavity of the GroEL/ES chaperone system, suggesting that the chaperonin limits the conformational space to overcome the entropic folding barrier. Our study highlights the subtle tuning and co-dependency in the folding of a discontinuous multi-domain protein.

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