Journal of Molecular Biology

The folding transition state of protein L is extensive with nonnative interactions (and not small and polarized)

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Progress in understanding protein folding relies heavily upon an interplay between experiment and theory. In particular, readily interpretable experimental data that can be meaningfully compared to simulations are required. According to standard mutational φ analysis, the transition state for Protein L contains only a single hairpin. However, we demonstrate here using ψ analysis with engineered metal ion binding sites that the transition state is extensive, containing the entire four-stranded β sheet. Underreporting of the structural content of the transition state by φ analysis also occurs for acyl phosphatase [Pandit, A. D., Jha, A., Freed, K. F. & Sosnick, T. R., (2006). Small proteins fold through transition states with native-like topologies. J. Mol. Biol. 361, 755-770], ubiquitin [Sosnick, T. R., Dothager, R. S. & Krantz, B. A., (2004). Differences in the folding transition state of ubiquitin indicated by φ and ψ analyses. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 17377-17382] and BdpA [Baxa, M., Freed, K. F. & Sosnick, T. R., (2008). Quantifying the structural requirements of the folding transition state of protein A and other systems. J. Mol. Biol. 381, 1362-1381]. The carboxy-terminal hairpin in the transition state of Protein L is found to be nonnative, a significant result that agrees with our Protein Data Bank-based backbone sampling and all-atom simulations. The nonnative character partially explains the failure of accepted experimental and native-centric computational approaches to adequately describe the transition state. Hence, caution is required even when an apparent agreement exists between experiment and theory, thus highlighting the importance of having alternative methods for characterizing transition states. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.