New scenarios of protein folding can occur on the ribosome

Edward P. O'Brien, John Christodoulou, Michele Vendruscolo, Christopher M. Dobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Identifying and understanding the differences between protein folding in bulk solution and in the cell is a crucial challenge facing biology. Using Langevin dynamics, we have simulated intact ribosomes containing five different nascent chains arrested at different stages of their synthesis such that each nascent chain can fold and unfold at or near the exit tunnel vestibule. We find that the native state is destabilized close to the ribosome surface due to an increase in unfolded state entropy and a decrease in native state entropy; the former arises because the unfolded ensemble tends to behave as an expanded random coil near the ribosome and a semicompact globule in bulk solution. In addition, the unfolded ensemble of the nascent chain adopts a highly anisotropic shape near the ribosome surface and the cooperativity of the folding-unfolding transition is decreased due to the appearance of partially folded structures that are not populated in bulk solution. The results show, in light of these effects, that with increasing nascent chain length folding rates increase in a linear manner and unfolding rates decrease, with larger and topologically more complex folds being the most highly perturbed by the ribosome. Analysis of folding trajectories, initiated by temperature quench, reveals the transition state ensemble is driven toward compaction and greater native-like structure by interactions with the ribosome surface and exit vestibule. Furthermore, the diversity of folding pathways decreases and the probability increases of initiating folding via the N-terminus on the ribosome. We show that all of these findings are equally applicable to the situation in which protein folding occurs during continuous (non-arrested) translation provided that the time scales of folding and unfolding are much faster than the time scale of monomer addition to the growing nascent chain, which results in a quasi-equilibrium process. These substantial ribosome-induced perturbations to almost all aspects of protein folding indicate that folding scenarios that are distinct from those of bulk solution can occur on the ribosome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-526
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 26 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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