• protein folding;
  • misfolding;
  • foldons;
  • sequential stabilization;
  • optional error;
  • predetermined pathway;
  • lysozyme


There is a fundamental conflict between two different views of how proteins fold. Kinetic experiments and theoretical calculations are often interpreted in terms of different population fractions folding through different intermediates in independent unrelated pathways (IUP model). However, detailed structural information indicates that all of the protein population folds through a sequence of intermediates predetermined by the foldon substructure of the target protein and a sequential stabilization principle. These contrary views can be resolved by a predetermined pathway—optional error (PPOE) hypothesis. The hypothesis is that any pathway intermediate can incorporate a chance misfolding error that blocks folding and must be reversed for productive folding to continue. Different fractions of the protein population will then block at different steps, populate different intermediates, and fold at different rates, giving the appearance of multiple unrelated pathways. A test of the hypothesis matches the two models against extensive kinetic folding results for hen lysozyme which have been widely cited in support of independent parallel pathways. The PPOE model succeeds with fewer fitting constants. The fitted PPOE reaction scheme leads to known folding behavior, whereas the IUP properties are contradicted by experiment. The appearance of a conflict with multipath theoretical models seems to be due to their different focus, namely on multitrack microscopic behavior versus cooperative macroscopic behavior. The integration of three well-documented principles in the PPOE model (cooperative foldons, sequential stabilization, optional errors) provides a unifying explanation for how proteins fold and why they fold in that way.