Low Folding Cooperativity of Hp35 Revealed by Single-Molecule Force Spectroscopy and Molecular Dynamics Simulation


Some small proteins, such as HP35, fold at submicrosecond timescale with low folding cooperativity. Although these proteins have been extensively investigated, still relatively little is known about their folding mechanism. Here, using single-molecule force spectroscopy and steered molecule dynamics simulation, we study the unfolding of HP35 under external force. Our results show that HP35 unfolds at extremely low forces without a well-defined unfolding transition state. Subsequently, we probe the structure of unfolded HP35 using the persistence length obtained in the force spectroscopy. We found that the persistence length of unfolded HP35 is around 0.72 nm, >40% longer than typical unstructured proteins, suggesting that there are a significant amount of residual secondary structures in the unfolded HP35. Molecular dynamics simulation further confirmed this finding and revealed that many native contacts are preserved in HP35, even its two ends have been extended up to 8 nm. Our results therefore suggest that retaining a significant amount of secondary structures in the unfolded state of HP35 may be an efficient way to reduce the entropic cost for the formation of tertiary structure and increase the folding speed, although the folding cooperativity is compromised. Moreover, we anticipate that the methods we used in this work can be extended to the study of other proteins with complex folding behaviors and even intrinsically disordered ones.

Biophysical Journal