Research Summary: How Difficult Is It to Fold a Knotted Protein? In Silico Insights from Surface-Tethered Folding Experiments


We explore the effect of surface tethering on the folding process of a lattice protein that contains a trefoil knot in its native structure via Monte Carlo simulations. We show that the outcome of the tethering experiment depends critically on which terminus is used to link the protein to a chemically inert plane. In particular, if surface tethering occurs at the bead that is closer to the knotted core the folding rate becomes exceedingly slow and the protein is not able to find the native structure in all the attempted folding trajectories. Such low folding efficiency is also apparent from the analysis of the probability of knot formation, pknot, as a function of nativeness. Indeed, pknot increases abruptly from ∼0 to ∼1 only when the protein has more than 80% of its native contacts formed, showing that a highly compact conformation must undergo substantial structural re-arrangement in order to get effectively knotted. When the protein is surface tethered by the bead that is placed more far away from the knotted core pknot is higher than in the other folding setups (including folding in the bulk), especially if conformations are highly native-like. These results show that the mobility of the terminus closest to the knotted core is critical for successful folding of trefoil proteins, which, in turn, highlights the importance of a knotting mechanism that is based on a threading movement of this terminus through a knotting loop. The results reported here predict that if this movement is blocked, knotting occurs via an alternative mechanism, the so-called spindle mechanism, which is prone to misfolding. Our simulations show that in the three considered folding setups the formation of the knot is typically a late event in the folding process. We discuss the implications of our findings for co-translational folding of knotted trefoils.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 20-December-2012

Author(s): Soler M., Faísca P.


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