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Title: Ultrafast folding kinetics of WW domains reveal how the amino acid sequence determines the speed limit to protein folding

Protein (un)folding rates depend on the free-energy barrier separating the native and unfolded states and a prefactor term, which sets the timescale for crossing such barrier or folding speed limit. Because extricating these two factors is usually unfeasible, it has been common to assume a constant prefactor and assign all rate variability to the barrier. However, theory and simulations postulate a protein-specific prefactor that contains key mechanistic information. Here, we exploit the special properties of fast-folding proteins to experimentally resolve the folding rate prefactor and investigate how much it varies among structural homologs. We measure the ultrafast (un)folding kinetics of five natural WW domains using nanosecond laser-induced temperature jumps. All five WW domains fold in microseconds, but with a 10-fold difference between fastest and slowest. Interestingly, they all produce biphasic kinetics in which the slower phase corresponds to reequilibration over the small barrier (<3RT) and the faster phase to the downhill relaxation of the minor population residing at the barrier top [transition state ensemble (TSE)]. The fast rate recapitulates the 10-fold range, demonstrating that the folding speed limit of even the simplest all-β fold strongly depends on the amino acid sequence. Given this fold’s simplicity, the most plausible source for such prefactor differences is the presence of nonnative interactions that stabilize the TSE but need to break up before folding resumes. Our results confirm long-standing theoretical predictions and bring into focus the rate prefactor as an essential element for understanding the mechanisms of folding.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Article No. 201900203
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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