Fine structure analysis of a protein folding transition state; distinguishing between hydrophobic stabilization and specific packing. Academic Article uri icon


  • Developing a detailed understanding of the structure and energetics of protein folding transition states is a key step in describing the folding process. The phi-value analysis approach allows the energetic contribution of side-chains to be mapped out by comparing wild-type with individual mutants where conservative changes are introduced. Studies where multiple substitutions are made at individual sites are much rarer but are potentially very useful for understanding the contribution of each element of a side-chain to transition state formation, and for distinguishing the relative importance of specific packing versus hydrophobic interactions. We have made a series of conservative mutations at multiple buried sites in the N-terminal domain of L9 in order to assess the relative importance of specific side-chain packing versus less specific hydrophobic stabilization of the transition state. A total of 28 variants were prepared using both naturally occurring and non-naturally occurring amino acids at six sites. Analysis of the mutants by NMR and CD showed no perturbation of the structure. There is no correlation between changes in hydrophobicity and changes in stability. In contrast, there is excellent linear correlation between the hydrophobicity of a side-chain and the log of the folding rate, ln(k(f)). The correlation between ln(k(f)) and the change in hydrophobicity holds even for substitutions that change the shape and/or size of a side-chain significantly. For most sites, the correlation with the logarithm of the unfolding rate, ln(k(u)), is much worse. Mutants with more hydrophobic amino acid substitutions fold faster, and those with less hydrophobic amino acid substitutions fold slower. The results show that hydrophobic interactions amongst core residues are an important driving force for forming the transition state, and are more important than specific tight packing interactions. Finally, a number of substitutions lead to negative phi-values and the origin of these effects are described.

published proceedings

  • J Mol Biol

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Anil, B., Sato, S., Cho, J., & Raleigh, D. P.

citation count

  • 51

complete list of authors

  • Anil, Burcu||Sato, Satoshi||Cho, Jae-Hyun||Raleigh, Daniel P

publication date

  • January 2005