Theoretical perspectives on protein folding

D. Thirumalai, Edward P. O'Brien, Greg Morrison, Changbong Hyeon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

166 Scopus citations


Understanding how monomeric proteins fold under in vitro conditions is crucial to describing their functions in the cellular context. Significant advances in theory and experiments have resulted in a conceptual framework for describing the folding mechanisms of globular proteins. The sizes of proteins in the denatured and folded states, cooperativity of the folding transition, dispersions in the melting temperatures at the residue level, and timescales of folding are, to a large extent, determined by N, the number of residues. The intricate details of folding as a function of denaturant concentration can be predicted by using a novel coarse-grained molecular transfer model. By watching one molecule fold at a time, using single-molecule methods, investigators have established the validity of the theoretically anticipated heterogeneity in the folding routes and the N-dependent timescales for the three stages in the approach to the native state. Despite the successes of theory, of which only a few examples are documented here, we conclude that much remains to be done to solve the protein folding problem in the broadest sense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-183
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Biophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 9 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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