Residue-level NMR View of the Urea-driven Equilibrium Folding Transition of SUMO-1 (1-97): Native Preferences Do Not Increase Monotonously
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SUMO-1 (1-97) is a crucial protein in the machinery of post-translational modifications. We observed by circular dichroism and fluorescence spectroscopy that urea-induced unfolding of this protein is a complex process with the possibility of occurrence of detectable intermediates along the way. The tertiary structure is completely lost around approximately 4.5 M urea with a transition mid-point at 2.53 M urea, while the secondary structure unfolding seems to show two transitions, with mid-points at 2.42 M and 5.69 M urea. We have elucidated by systematic urea titration, the equilibrium residue level structural and dynamics changes along the entire folding/unfolding transition by multidimensional NMR. With urea dilution, the protein is seen to progressively lose most of the broad beta-domain structural preferences present at 8 M urea, acquire some helical propensities at 5 M urea, and lose some of them again on further dilution of urea. Between 3 M and 2 M urea, the protein starts afresh to acquire native structural features. These observations are contrary to the conventional notion that proteins fold with monotonously increasing native-type preferences. For folding below approximately 3 M urea, the region around the alpha1 helix appears to be a potential folding initiation site. The folding seems to start with a collapse into native-like topologies, at least in parts, and is followed by formation of secondary and tertiary structure, perhaps by cooperative rearrangements. The motional characteristics of the protein show sequence-dependent variation as the concentration of urea is progressively reduced. At the sub-nanosecond level, the features are extremely unusual for denatured states, and only certain segments corresponding to the flexible regions in the native protein display these motions at the different concentrations of urea.
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