• stability;
  • unfolding;
  • aggregation;
  • disease;
  • muscular dystrophy;
  • dystrophin;
  • utrophin;
  • actin-binding domain;
  • calponin-homology domain


Muscular dystrophy (MD) is the most common genetic lethal disorder in children. Mutations in dystrophin trigger the most common form of MD, Duchenne, and its allelic variant Becker MD. Utrophin is the closest homologue and has been shown to compensate for the loss of dystrophin in human disease animal models. However, the structural and functional similarities and differences between utrophin and dystrophin are less understood. Both proteins interact with actin through their N-terminal actin-binding domain (N-ABD). In this study, we examined the thermodynamic stability and aggregation of utrophin N-ABD and compared with that of dystrophin. Our results show that utrophin N-ABD has spectroscopic properties similar to dystrophin N-ABD. However, utrophin N-ABD has decreased denaturant and thermal stability, unfolds faster, and is correspondingly more susceptible to proteolysis, which might account for its decreased in vivo half-life compared to dystrophin. In addition, utrophin N-ABD aggregates to a lesser extent compared with dystrophin N-ABD, contrary to the general behavior of proteins in which decreased stability enhances protein aggregation. Despite these differences in stability and aggregation, both proteins exhibit deleterious effects of mutations. When utrophin N-ABD mutations analogous in position to the dystrophin disease-causing mutations were generated, they behaved similarly to dystrophin mutants in terms of decreased stability and the formation of cross-β aggregates, indicating a possible role for utrophin mutations in disease mechanisms. Proteins 2012; © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.