GroEL-mediated protein folding: making the impossible, possible.
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Protein folding is a spontaneous process that is essential for life, yet the concentrated and complex interior of a cell is an inherently hostile environment for the efficient folding of many proteins. Some proteins-constrained by sequence, topology, size, and function-simply cannot fold by themselves and are instead prone to misfolding and aggregation. This problem is so deeply entrenched that a specialized family of proteins, known as molecular chaperones, evolved to assist in protein folding. Here we examine one essential class of molecular chaperones, the large, oligomeric, and energy utilizing chaperonins or Hsp60s. The bacterial chaperonin GroEL, along with its co-chaperonin GroES, is probably the best-studied example of this family of protein-folding machine. In this review, we examine some of the general properties of proteins that do not fold well in the absence of GroEL and then consider how folding of these proteins is enhanced by GroEL and GroES. Recent experimental and theoretical studies suggest that chaperonins like GroEL and GroES employ a combination of protein isolation, unfolding, and conformational restriction to drive protein folding under conditions where it is otherwise not possible.