Dependence of protein folding stability and dynamics on the density and composition of macromolecular crowders.
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We investigate the effect of macromolecular crowding on protein folding, using purely repulsive crowding particles and a self-organizing polymer model of protein folding. We find that the variation in folding stability with crowder size for typical alpha-, beta-, and alpha/beta-proteins is well described by an adaptation of the scaled particle theory. The native state, the transition state, and the unfolded protein are treated as effective hard spheres, with the folded and transition state radii independent of the size and concentration of the crowders. Remarkably, we find that, as the effective unfolded state radius is very weakly dependent on the crowder concentration, it can also be approximated by a single size. The same model predicts the effect of crowding on the folding barrier and therefore refolding rates with no adjustable parameters. A simple extension of the scaled-particle theory model, assuming additivity, can also describe the behavior of mixtures of crowding particles.