The case for defined protein folding pathways [Biophysics and Computational Biology]
We consider the differences between the many-pathway protein folding model derived from theoretical energy landscape considerations and the defined-pathway model derived from experiment. A basic tenet of the energy landscape model is that proteins fold through many heterogeneous pathways by way of amino acid-level dynamics biased toward selecting native-like interactions. The many pathways imagined in the model are not observed in the structure-formation stage of folding by experiments that would have found them, but they have now been detected and characterized for one protein in the initial prenucleation stage. Analysis presented here shows that these many microscopic trajectories are not distinct in any functionally significant way, and they have neither the structural information nor the biased energetics needed to select native vs. nonnative interactions during folding. The opposed defined-pathway model stems from experimental results that show that proteins are assemblies of small cooperative units called foldons and that a number of proteins fold in a reproducible pathway one foldon unit at a time. Thus, the same foldon interactions that encode the native structure of any given protein also naturally encode its particular foldon-based folding pathway, and they collectively sum to produce the energy bias toward native interactions that is necessary for efficient folding. Available information suggests that quantized native structure and stepwise folding coevolved in ancient repeat proteins and were retained as a functional pair due to their utility for solving the difficult protein folding problem.
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