Source:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109:17783-8, 2012
Recent experiments have conclusively shown that proteins are able to fold from an unknotted, denatured polypeptide to the knotted, native state without the aid of chaperones. These experiments are consistent with a growing body of theoretical work showing that a funneled, minimally frustrated energy landscape is sufficient to fold small proteins with complex topologies. Here, we present a theoretical investigation of the folding of a knotted protein, 2ouf, engineered in the laboratory by a domain fusion that mimics an evolutionary pathway for knotted proteins. Unlike a previously studied knotted protein of similar length, we see reversible folding/knotting and a surprising lack of deep topological traps with a coarse-grained structure-based model. Our main interest is to investigate how evolution might further select the geometry and stiffness of the threading region of the newly fused protein. We compare the folding of the wild-type protein to several mutants. Similarly to the wild-type protein, all mutants show robust and reversible folding, and knotting coincides with the transition state ensemble. As observed experimentally, our simulations show that the knotted protein folds about ten times slower than an unknotted construct with an identical contact map. Simulated folding kinetics reflect the experimentally observed rollover in the folding limbs of chevron plots. Successful folding of the knotted protein is restricted to a narrow range of temperature as compared to the unknotted protein and fits of the kinetic folding data below folding temperature suggest slow, nondiffusive dynamics for the knotted protein.