Folding of multidomain proteins: Biophysical consequences of tethering even in apparently independent folding



Most eukaryotic and a substantial fraction of prokaryotic proteins are composed of more than one domain. The tethering of these evolutionary, structural, and functional units raises, among others, questions regarding the folding process of conjugated domains. Studying the folding of multidomain proteins in silico enables one to identify and isolate the tethering-induced biophysical determinants that govern crosstalks generated between neighboring domains. For this purpose, we carried out coarse-grained and atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of two two-domain constructs from the immunoglobulin-like β-sandwich fold. Each of these was experimentally shown to behave as the “sum of its parts,” that is, the thermodynamic and kinetic folding behavior of the constituent domains of these constructs seems to occur independently, with the folding of each domain uncoupled from the folding of its partner in the two-domain construct. We show that the properties of the individual domains can be significantly affected by conjugation to another domain. The tethering may be accompanied by stabilizing as well as destabilizing factors whose magnitude depends on the size of the interface, the length, and the flexibility of the linker, and the relative stability of the domains. Accordingly, the folding of a multidomain protein should not be viewed as the sum of the folding patterns of each of its parts, but rather, it involves abrogating several effects that lead to this outcome. An imbalance between these effects may result in either stabilization or destabilization owing to the tethering. Proteins 2012; © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.