Macromolecular crowding modulates folding mechanism of α/β protein apoflavodoxin

Dirar Homouz, Loren Stagg, Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, Margaret S. Cheung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Protein dynamics in cells may be different from those in dilute solutions in vitro, because the environment in cells is highly concentrated with other macromolecules. This volume exclusion because of macromolecular crowding is predicted to affect both equilibrium and kinetic processes involving protein conformational changes. To quantify macromolecular crowding effects on protein folding mechanisms, we investigated the folding energy landscape of an α/β protein, apoflavodoxin, in the presence of inert macromolecular crowding agents, using in silico and in vitro approaches. By means of coarse-grained molecular simulations and topology-based potential interactions, we probed the effects of increased volume fractions of crowding agents (φc) as well as of crowding agent geometry (sphere or spherocylinder) at high φ c. Parallel kinetic folding experiments with purified Desulfovibro desulfuricansapoflavodoxin in vitro were performed in the presence of Ficoll (sphere) and Dextran (spherocylinder) synthetic crowding agents. In conclusion, we identified the in silico crowding conditions that best enhance protein stability, and discovered that upon manipulation of the crowding conditions, folding routes experiencing topological frustrations can be either enhanced or relieved. Our test-tube experiments confirmed that apoflavodoxin's time-resolved folding path is modulated by crowding agent geometry. Macromolecular crowding effects may be a tool for the manipulation of protein-folding and function in living cells.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)671-680
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Jan 2009


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