The mechanism of coupled folding-upon-binding of an intrinsically disordered protein
AbstractIntrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), which in isolation do not adopt a well-defined tertiary structure but instead populate a structurally heterogeneous ensemble of interconverting states, play important roles in many biological pathways. IDPs often fold into ordered states upon binding to their physiological interaction partners (a so-called "folding-upon-binding" process), but it has proven difficult to obtain an atomic-level description of the structural mechanisms by which they
... nisms by which they do so. Here, we describe in atomic detail the folding-upon-binding mechanism of an IDP segment to its binding partner, as observed in unbiased molecular dynamics simulations. In our simulations, we observed over 70 binding and unbinding events between the α-helical molecular recognition element (α-MoRE) of the intrinsically disordered C-terminal domain of the measles virus nucleoprotein (NTAIL) and the X domain (XD) of the measles virus phosphoprotein complex. We found that folding-upon-binding primarily occurred through induced-folding pathways (in which intermolecular contacts form before or concurrently with the secondary structure of the disordered protein)—an observation supported by previous experiments—and that the transition state ensemble was characterized by the formation of just a few key intermolecular contacts, and was otherwise highly structurally heterogeneous. We found that when a large amount of helical content was present early in a transition path, NTAIL typically unfolded, then refolded after additional intermolecular contacts formed. We also found that, among conformations with similar numbers of intermolecular contacts, those with less helical content had a higher probability of ultimately forming the native complex than conformations with more helical content, which were more likely to unbind. These observations suggest that even after intermolecular contacts have formed, disordered regions can have a kinetic advantage over folded regions in the folding-upon-binding process.