Perturbations of the denatured state ensemble: Modeling their effects on protein stability and folding kinetics

James O. Wrabl, David Shortle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


By considering the denatured state of a protein as an ensemble of conformations with varying numbers of sequence-specific interactions, the effects on stability, folding kinetics, and aggregation of perturbing these interactions can be predicted from changes in the molecular partition function. From general considerations, the following conclusions are drawn: (1) A perturbation that enhances a native interaction in denatured state conformations always increases the stability of the native state. (2) A perturbation that promotes a non-native interaction in the denatured state always decreases the stability of the native state. (3) A change in the denatured state ensemble can alter the kinetics of aggregation and folding. (4) The loss (or increase) in stability accompanying two mutations, each of which lowers (or raises) the free energy of the denatured state, will be less than the sum of the effects of the single mutations, except in cases where both mutations affect the same set of partially folded conformations. By modeling the denatured state as the ensemble of all non-native conformations of hydrophobic polar (HP) chains configured on a square lattice, it can be shown that the stabilization obtained from enhancement of native interactions derives in large measure from the avoidance of non-native interactions in the D state. In addition, the kinetic effects of fixing single native contacts in the denatured state or imposing linear gradients in the HH contact probabilities are found, for some sequences, to significantly enhance the efficiency of folding by a simple hydrophobic zippering algorithm. Again, the dominant mechanism appears to be avoidance of non native interactions. These results suggest stabilization of native interactions and imposition of gradients in the stability of local structure are two plausible mechanisms involving the denatured state that could play a role in the evolution of protein folding and stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2343-2352
Number of pages10
JournalProtein Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1996


  • denatured states
  • double mutants
  • folding intermediates
  • non- additivity
  • protein folding
  • protein stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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