Protein folding

Protein folding

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I've two questions 1. Is free ATP available in the cytoplasm of the cell? 2. In the protein folding funnel, prions and other misfolded proteins are located at the local minima of the graph. If ATP was freely available, it could possibly give a kick to the misfolded structure to cross the energy barrier and this should help the structure to fold along the idealistic path. But such a thing does not happen in reality. Why?

  1. Yes
  2. The energy released by ATP hydrolysis must be coupled, by enzymes, to some other reaction or process in order to be useful. It isn't magic. There are ATP-dependent chaperones that assist in protein folding.

Protein Folding and Human Disease

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Protein Folding

Proteins are folded and held together by several forms of molecular interactions. The molecular interactions include the thermodynamic stability of the complex, the hydrophobic interactions and the disulfide bonds formed in the proteins. The figure below (Figure (PageIndex<2>)) is an example of protein folding.

Figure (PageIndex<2>): Protein Folding. (Public Domain DrKjaergaard via Wikipedia)

The biggest factor in a proteins ability to fold is the thermodynamics of the structure. The interaction scheme includes the short-range propensity to form extended conformations, residue-dependent long-range contact potentials, and orientation-dependent hydrogen bonds. 7 The thermodynamics are a main stabilizing force within a protein because if it is not in the lowest energy conformation it will continue to move and adjust until it finds its most stable state. The use of energy diagrams and maps are key in finding out when the protein is in the most stable form possible.

The next type of interaction in protein folding is the hydrophobic interactions within the protein. The framework model and the hydrophobic collapse model represent two canonical descriptions of the protein folding process. The first places primary reliance on the short-range interactions of secondary structure and the second assigns greater importance to the long-range interactions of tertiary structure. 6 These hydrophobic interactions have an impact not just on the primary structure but then lead to changes seen in the secondary and tertiary structure as well. Globular proteins acquire distinct compact native con- formations in water as a result of the hydrophobic effect. 7 When a protein has been folded in the correct way it usually exists with the hydrophobic core as a result of being hydrated by waters in the system around it which is important because it creates a charged core to the protein and can lead to the creation of channels within the protein. The hydrophobic interactions are found to affect time correlation functions in the vicinity of the native state even though they have no impact on same time characteristics of the structure fluctuations around the native state. 7 The hydrophobic interactions are shown to have an impact on the protein even after it has found the most stable conformation in how the proteins can interact with each other as well as folding themselves.

Figure (PageIndex<3>): Disulfide Bonds. (Public Domain vasconcellos via Wikipedia)

Another type of interaction seen when the protein is folding is the disulfide linkages that form in the protein (Figure (PageIndex<3>)). The disulfide bond, a sulfur- sulfur chemical bond that results from an oxidative process that links nonadjacent (in most cases) cysteine&rsquos of a protein. 9 These are a major way that proteins get into their folded form. The types of disulfide bonds are cysteine-cysteine linkage is a stable part of their final folded structure and those in which pairs of cysteines alternate between the reduced and oxidized states. 9 The more common is the linkages that cause the protein to fold together and link back on itself compared to the cysteines that are changing oxidation states because the bonds between cysteines once created are fairly stable.

We often think of proteins as nutrients in the food we eat or the main component of muscles, but proteins are also microscopic molecules inside of cells that perform diverse and vital jobs. With the Human Genome Project complete, scientists are turning their attention to the human “proteome,” the catalog of all human proteins. This work has shown that the world of proteins is a fascinating one, full of molecules with such intricate shapes and precise functions that they seem almost fanciful.

A protein’s function depends on its shape, and when protein formation goes awry, the resulting misshapen proteins cause problems that range from bad, when proteins neglect their important work, to ugly, when they form a sticky, clumpy mess inside of cells. Current research suggests that the world of proteins is far from pristine. Protein formation is an error-prone process, and mistakes along the way have been linked to a number of human diseases.

The wide world of proteins:

There are 20,000 to over 100,000 unique types of proteins within a typical human cell. Why so many? Proteins are the workhorses of the cell. Each expertly performs a specific task. Some are structural, lending stiffness and rigidity to muscle cells or long thin neurons, for example. Others bind to specific molecules and shuttle them to new locations, and still others catalyze reactions that allow cells to divide and grow. This wealth of diversity and specificity in function is made possible by a seemingly simple property of proteins: they fold.

Proteins fold into a functional shape

A protein starts off in the cell as a long chain of, on average, 300 building blocks called amino acids. There are 22 different types of amino acids, and their ordering determines how the protein chain will fold upon itself. When folding, two types of structures usually form first. Some regions of the protein chain coil up into slinky-like formations called “alpha helices,” while other regions fold into zigzag patterns called “beta sheets,” which resemble the folds of a paper fan. These two structures can interact to form more complex structures. For example, in one protein structure, several beta sheets wrap around themselves to form a hollow tube with a few alpha helices jutting out from one end. The tube is short and squat such that the overall structure resembles snakes (alpha helices) emerging from a can (beta sheet tube). A few other protein structures with descriptive names include the “beta barrel,” the “beta propeller,” the “alpha/beta horseshoe,” and the “jelly-roll fold.”

These complex structures allow proteins to perform their diverse jobs in the cell. The “snakes in a can” protein, when embedded in a cell membrane, creates a tunnel that allows traffic into and out of cells. Other proteins form shapes with pockets called “active sites” that are perfectly shaped to bind to a particular molecule, like a lock and key. By folding into distinct shapes, proteins can perform very different roles despite being composed of the same basic building blocks. To draw an analogy, all vehicles are made from steel, but a racecar’s sleek shape wins races, while a bus, dump truck, crane, or zamboni are each shaped to perform their own unique tasks.

Why does protein folding sometimes fail?

Folding allows a protein to adopt a functional shape, but it is a complex process that sometimes fails. Protein folding can go wrong for three major reasons:

1: A person might possess a mutation that changes an amino acid in the protein chain, making it difficult for a particular protein to find its preferred fold or “native” state. This is the case for inherited mutations, for example, those leading to cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. These mutations are located in the DNA sequence or “gene” that encodes one particular protein. Therefore, these types of inherited mutations affect only that particular protein and its related function.

2: On the other hand, protein folding failure can be viewed as an ongoing and more general process that affects many proteins. When proteins are created, the machine that reads the directions from DNA to create the long chains of amino acids can make mistakes. Scientists estimate that this machine, the ribosome, makes mistakes in as many as 1 in every 7 proteins! These mistakes can make the resulting proteins less likely to fold properly.

3: Even if an amino acid chain has no mutations or mistakes, it may still not reach its preferred folded shape simply because proteins do not fold correctly 100% of the time. Protein folding becomes even more difficult if the conditions in the cell, like acidity and temperature, change from those to which the organism is accustomed.

A failure in protein folding causes several known diseases, and scientists hypothesize that many more diseases may be related to folding problems. There are two completely different problems that occur in cells when their proteins do not fold properly.

One type of problem, called “loss of function,” results when not enough of a particular protein folds properly, causing a shortage of “specialized workers” needed to do a specific job. For example, imagine that a properly folded protein is perfectly shaped to bind a toxin and break it into less toxic byproducts. Without enough of the properly folded protein available, the toxin will build up to damaging levels. As another example, a protein may be responsible for metabolizing sugar so that the cell can use it for energy. The cell will grow slowly due to lack of energy if not enough of the protein is present in its functional state. The reason the cell gets sick, in these cases, is due to a lack of one specific, properly folded, functional protein. Cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, Marfan syndrome, and some forms of cancer are examples of diseases that result when one type of protein is not able to perform its job. Who knew that one type of protein among tens of thousands could be so important?

Proteins that fold improperly may also impact the health of the cell regardless of the function of the protein. When proteins fail to fold into their functional state, the resulting misfolded proteins can be contorted into shapes that are unfavorable to the crowded cellular environment. Most proteins possess sticky, “water-hating” amino acids that they bury deep inside their core. Misfolded proteins wear these inner parts on the outside, like a chocolate-covered candy that has been crushed to reveal a gooey caramel center. These misfolded proteins often stick together forming clumps called “aggregates.” Scientists hypothesize that the accumulation of misfolded proteins plays a role in several neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Lou Gehrig’s (ALS) disease, but scientists are still working to discover exactly how these misfolded, sticky molecules inflict their damage on cells.

One misfolded protein stands out among the rest to deserve special attention. The “prion” protein in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as mad cow disease, is an example of a misfolded protein gone rogue. This protein is not only irreversibly misfolded, but it converts other functional proteins into its twisted state.

How do our cells protect themselves from misfolded proteins?

Recent research shows that protein misfolding happens frequently inside of cells. Fortunately, cells are accustomed to coping with this problem and have several systems in place to refold or destroy aberrant protein formations.

Chaperones are one such system. Appropriately named, they accompany proteins through the folding process, improving a protein’s chances of folding properly and even allowing some misfolded proteins the opportunity to refold. Interestingly, chaperones are proteins themselves! There are many different types of chaperones. Some cater specifically to helping one type of protein fold, while others act more generally. Some chaperones are shaped like large hollow chambers and provide proteins with a safe space, isolated from other molecules, in which to fold. Production of several chaperones is boosted when a cell encounters high temperatures or other conditions making protein folding more difficult, thus earning these chaperones the alias, “heat shock proteins.”

Another line of cell defense against misfolded proteins is called the proteasome. If misfolded proteins linger in the cell, they will be targeted for destruction by this machine, which chews up proteins and spits them out as small fragments of amino acids. The proteasome is like a recycling center, allowing the cell to reuse amino acids to make more proteins. The proteasome itself is not one protein but many acting together. Proteins frequently interact to form larger structures with important cellular functions. For example, the tail of a human sperm is a structure composed of many types of proteins that work together to form a complex rotary engine that propels the sperm forward.

Future research about protein folding and misfolding:

Why is it that some misfolded proteins are able to evade systems like chaperones and the proteasome? How can sticky misfolded proteins cause the neurodegenerative diseases listed above? Do some proteins misfold more often than others? These questions are at the forefront of current research seeking to understand basic protein biology and the diseases that result when protein folding goes awry.

The wide world of proteins, with its great assortment of shapes, bestows cells with capabilities that allow for life to exist and allow for its diversity (e.g., the differences between eye, skin, lung or heart cells, and the differences between species). Perhaps for this reason, the word “protein” is from the Greek word “protas,” meaning “of primary importance.”

–Contributed by Kerry Geiler, a 4th year Ph.D student in the Harvard Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Changing the Shape of a Protein

If the protein is subject to changes in temperature, pH, or exposure to chemicals, the internal interactions between the protein&rsquos amino acids can be altered, which in turn may alter the shape of the protein. Although the amino acid sequence (also known as the protein&rsquos primary structure) does not change, the protein&rsquos shape may change so much that it becomes dysfunctional, in which case the protein is considered denatured. Pepsin, the enzyme that breaks down protein in the stomach, only operates at a very low pH. At higher pHs pepsin&rsquos conformation, the way its polypeptide chain is folded up in three dimensions, begins to change. The stomach maintains a very low pH to ensure that pepsin continues to digest protein and does not denature.

11.3: Protein Folding in the Endoplasmic Reticulum

  • Contributed by E. V. Wong
  • Axolotl Academica Publishing (Biology) at Axolotl Academica Publishing

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) lumen plays four major protein processing roles:

  1. folding/refolding of the polypeptide,
  2. glycosylation of the protein,
  3. assembly of multi-subunit proteins, and
  4. packaging of proteins into vesicles.

Refolding of proteins is an important process because the initial folding patterns as the polypeptide is still being translated and unfinished may not be the optimal folding pattern once the entire protein is available. This is true not just of H-bonds, but of the more permanent (i.e. covalent) disulfide bonds as well. Looking at the hypothetical example polypeptide, the secondary structure of the N-terminal half may lead to the formation of a stable disulfide bond between the first cysteine and the second cysteine, but in the context of the whole protein, a more stable disulfide bond might be formed between cysteine 1 and cysteine 4. The exchange of disulfide bonding targets is catalyzed by protein disulfide isomerase (PDI).

Figure (PageIndex<8>). Protein Disulfide Isomerase rearranges disulfide bonds.

The internal redox environment of the endoplasmic reticulum, is significantly more oxidative than that in the cytoplasm. This is largely determined by glutathione, which is found in a 30:1 GSH:GSSG ratio or higher in the cytoplasm but at nearly 1:1 ratio in the ER lumen. This oxidative environment is also conducive to the disulfide remodeling. It should be noted that PDI does not choose the &ldquocorrect&rdquo bonding partners. It simply moves the existing disulfide bonds to a more energetically stable arrangement. As the rest of the polypeptide continues to refold, breaking and making H-bonds quickly, new potential disulfide bond partners may move near one another and PDI can again attempt to rearrange the disulfide bonding pattern if the resulting pattern is more thermodynamically stable.

Figure (PageIndex<9>). Protein Disulfide Isomerase. This enzyme uses a sulfhydryl group of a cysteine residue as temporary bonding partner in order to break disulfide bonds on the target protein and allow for new ones to form. Note that the formation of a new bond is not directed by PDI, but is instead a stochastic process in which a stronger binding partner displaces the PDI &mdashSH.

The assembly of multisubunit proteins and the refolding of polypeptides are similar in their use of chaperone proteins that help prevent premature folding, sequestering parts of the protein from H-bonding interaction until the full protein is in the ER lumen.

Figure (PageIndex<10>). Protein folding is optimized in the ER. Proteins such as calnexin can temporarily bind to nascent polypeptides, preventing them from forming secondary structures from incomplete information, releasing the protein for folding once the entire polypeptide has been translated.

This mechanism simply makes finding the thermodynamically optimal conformation easier by preventing the formation of some potential suboptimal conformations. These chaperone proteins bind to the new proteins as they enter the lumen through the translocon and in addition to simply preventing incorrect bonds that would have to be broken, they also prevent premature interaction of multiple polypeptides with one another. This can be a problem because prior to the proper folding that would normally hide such domains within the protein, the immature polypeptides may have interaction domains exposed, leading to indiscriminate binding, and potentially precipitation of insoluble protein aggregates.

Chaperone proteins can also be found in prokaryotes, archaea, and in the cytoplasm of eukaryotes. These are somewhat similar to each other, and function somewhat differently than the types of folding proteins found in the ER lumen. They are referred to generally as chaperonins, and the best characterized is the GroEL/ GroES complex in E. coli. As the structure in Figure (PageIndex<11>) indicates, it is similar in shape to the proteasome, although with a completely different function. GroEL is made up of two stacked rings, each composed of 7 subunits, with a large central cavity and a large area of hydrophobic residues at its opening. GroES is also composed of 7 subunits, and acts as a cap on one end of the GroEL. However, GroES only caps GroEL in the presence of ATP. Upon hydrolysis of the ATP, the chaperonins undergo major concerted conformational changes that impinge on the protein inside, causing refolding, and then the GroES dissociates and the protein is released back into the cytosol.

Figure (PageIndex<11>). GroEL/GroES complex. The two heptameric rings of GroEL are shown in green and blue/purple. The GroES heptamer (red/yellow) caps the GroEL complex in the presence of ATP. Illustration by D.S. Goodsell, 2002.

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One finished paper amino acid.

We have a fun paper folding activity. Remember how proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids, and have their own special shape? Not only do proteins look different, they have different jobs to do inside the cell to keep your body running smoothly.

The protein we made is a channel that sits in the outer cell surface, or membrane, and works like a door that lets certain molecules pass through. Some channels are open all the time while others can be closed depending on signals from the cell or the environment. When the channel is open, other molecules can enter the cell by passing through the hole in the middle.

As you'll discover while building your origami channel, the shape of a protein is very important. If you don't fold your origami amino acids correctly, they wouldn’t fit together to make a protein chain. Or, if you make a mistake joining amino acids together, the finished channel might not be able to open and close correctly.

In nature the same thing can happen. If a protein is the wrong shape it will not work correctly.

Materials: You will need 8 square pieces of paper of the same size.

Tips: The best way to make folds is to lay the paper down on a hard, flat surface, such as a table. It's important to pay attention to the direction of the paper and make sure not to change it's orientation when following instructions.

You can find out more about how proteins fold into unique shapes to make and do work inside your body in the Protein Science section.

You can also download and print our Origami Protein Handout (PDF) for step-by-step instructions of how to make your protein channel, or watch this step by step video.

1. Fold a single piece of paper in half diagonally
2. Fold the paper in half diagonally again
3. Your folded paper should look like this
4. Unfold the paper

5. Fold the paper in half
6. Fold the paper in half again
7. Your folded paper should look like this

8. Unfold the top layer of the square halfway
9. Open the top layer of the square and flatten it into a triangle, using the existing creases.
10. Your folded paper should look like this

11. Flip it over
12. Unfold the top layer halfway
13. Open the top layer and flatten it into a triangle, using the existing creases.
14. Your folded paper should look like this

15. Fold the edges of the top layer only into the centerline
16. Your folded paper should look like this
17. Flip it over
18. Fold the edges of the top layer only into the centerline
19. You've now completed one amino acid. Repeat these steps with another piece of paper until you've created a total of eight amino acids.

And, that's it! Once you have amino acids, you are ready to move onto Part 2 to make the protein channel.

David Baker

David Baker received a BA in Biology from Harvard University and a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, Baker is the Head of the Institute for Protein Design and a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. His research utilizes both experimental and… Continue Reading

Biological origami

Protein-folding can be a process of hit-and-miss. It's a four-part process that usually begins with two basic folds.

Healthy proteins depend on a specific sequence of amino acids and how the molecule 'folds' and coils

First, parts of a protein chain coil up into what are known as "alpha helices."

Then, other parts or regions of the protein form "beta sheets," which look a bit like the improvised paper fans we make on a hot summer's day.

In steps three and four, you get more complex shapes. The two basic structures combine into tubes and other shapes that resemble propellers, horseshoes or jelly rolls. And that gives them their function.

Tube or tunnel-like proteins, for instance, can act as an express route for traffic to flow in and out of cells. There are "coiled coils" that move like snakes to enable a function in DNA — clearly, it takes all types in the human body.

Watch the video: Proteins and their Structure (July 2022).


  1. Jamahl

    It was and with me.

  2. Johnathon

    Bravo, what suitable words ..., the admirable thought

  3. Sak

    definitely, we will go in and read!

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