Statistical coil model of the unfolded state: resolving the reconciliation problem

An unfolded state ensemble is generated by using a self-avoiding statistical coil model that is based on backbone conformational frequencies in a coil library, a subset of the Protein Data Bank. The model reproduces two apparently contradicting behaviors observed in the chemically denatured state for a variety of proteins, random coil scaling of the radius of gyration and the presence of significant amounts of local backbone structure (NMR residual dipolar couplings). The most stretched members of our unfolded ensemble dominate the residual dipolar coupling signal, whereas the uniformity of the sign of the couplings follows from the preponderance of polyproline II and β conformers in the coil library. Agreement with the NMR data substantially improves when the backbone conformational preferences include correlations arising from the chemical and conformational identity of neighboring residues. Although the unfolded ensembles match the experimental observables, they do not display evidence of native-like topology. By providing an accurate representation of the unfolded state, our statistical coil model can be used to improve thermodynamic and kinetic modeling of protein folding.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0506078102