Investigating Protein Folding Pathways at Atomistic Resolution: from a Small Domain to a Knotted Protein

Covino, Roberto (2013) Investigating Protein Folding Pathways at Atomistic Resolution: from a Small Domain to a Knotted Protein. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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Although protein folding has been studied for decades many open issues still resist, and we yet lack a clear and general description of the mechanisms leading from the unfolded to the folded state. In particular, it is still under debate whether proteins fold through few well-defined pathways or trough a large multitude of independent ways. Answering these questions is made difficult by the fact that standard molecular dynamics (MD) simulations are very computationally expensive and often impracticable. Moreover, often even experimental techniques lack the necessary resolution to give a definitive answer. We will introduce and develope the Dominant Reaction Pathway (DRP), which is an approach that permits to efficiently study the thermally activated conformational dynamics of bio-molecules in atomistic detail. In particular, it can be used to characterize and portray the folding pathways of a protein once the unfolded and folded configurations are given. We firstly applied the DRP to a realistic protein studying the folding pathways of the Fip35 WW Domain, a 35 amino-acids long protein. Performing all atom simulations we were able to show that this small protein folds following only two pathways, defined by the order of formation of secondary structures. Notably, our results are compatible with ultra long MD simulations and consistent with the analysis of the experimental available data on the folding kinetics of the same system. Exploiting the efficiency of the DRP formalism, computing a folding trajectory of this protein only required about one hour on 48 CPU’s. We applied then our simulation scheme to a much more challenging task: performing an all-atom folding simulation of a 82 amino-acids long protein displaying a topological knot in its native conformation. We were able to portray the folding mechanism and to identify the essential key contacts leading to the proper formation of this knot. Interestingly, we showed that non native contacts, i.e., transient contacts formed during the folding of the protein but absent in its native state, can sensibly enhance the probability of correctly forming the knot.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Physics
PhD Cycle:26
Subjects:Area 02 - Scienze fisiche > FIS/03 FISICA DELLA MATERIA
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