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Different Folding Pathways Taken by Highly Homologous Proteins, Goat α-Lactalbumin and Canine Milk Lysozyme

Journal of Molecular Biology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2010.01.021
  • Protein Folding
  • Folding Pathway
  • α-Lactalbumin
  • Nmr
  • Hydrogen–Deuterium Exchange
  • Biology
  • Mathematics


Abstract Is the folding pathway conserved in homologous proteins? To address this question, we compared the folding pathways of goat α-lactalbumin and canine milk lysozyme using equilibrium and kinetic circular dichroism spectroscopy. Both Ca2+-binding proteins have 41% sequence identity and essentially identical backbone structures. The Φ-value analysis, based on the effect of Ca2+ on the folding kinetics, showed that the Ca2+-binding site was well organized in the transition state in α-lactalbumin, although it was not yet organized in lysozyme. Equilibrium unfolding and hydrogen-exchange 2D NMR analysis of the molten globule intermediate also showed that different regions were stabilized in the two proteins. In α-lactalbumin, the Ca2+-binding site and the C-helix were weakly organized, whereas the A- and B-helices, both distant from the Ca2+-binding site, were well organized in lysozyme. The results thus provide an example of highly homologous proteins taking different folding pathways. To understand the molecular origin of this difference, we investigated the native three-dimensional structures of the proteins in terms of non-local contact clusters, a parameter based on the residue–residue contact map and known to be well correlated with the folding rate of non-two-state proteins. There were remarkable differences between the proteins in the distribution of the non-local contact clusters, and these differences provided a reasonable explanation of the observed difference in the folding initiation sites. In conclusion, the protein folding pathway is determined not only by the backbone topology but also by the specific side-chain interactions of contacting residues.

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