Intrinsically Disordered Proteins: Ensembles at the Limits of Anfinsen's Dogma

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Conformational Dynamics, Molecular Dynamics, Computational Models, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Amino Acid, Peptides, Proteins, Therapeutics, Stochastic Processes

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Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are proteins that lack rigid 3D structure. Hence, they are often misconceived to present a challenge to Anfinsen's dogma. However, IDPs exist as ensembles that sample a quasi-continuum of rapidly interconverting conformations and, as such, may represent proteins at the extreme limit of the Anfinsen postulate. IDPs play important biological roles and are key components of the cellular protein interaction network (PIN). Many IDPs can interconvert between disordered and ordered states as they bind to appropriate partners. Conformational dynamics of IDPs contribute to conformational noise in the cell. Thus, the dysregulation of IDPs contributes to increased noise and “promiscuous” interactions. This leads to PIN rewiring to output an appropriate response underscoring the critical role of IDPs in cellular decision making. Nonetheless, IDPs are not easily tractable experimentally. Furthermore, in the absence of a reference conformation, discerning the energy landscape representation of the weakly funneled IDPs in terms of reaction coordinates is challenging. To understand conformational dynamics in real time and decipher how IDPs recognize multiple binding partners with high specificity, several sophisticated knowledge-based and physics-based in silico sampling techniques have been developed. Here, using specific examples, we highlight recent advances in energy landscape visualization and molecular dynamics simulations to discern conformational dynamics and discuss how the conformational preferences of IDPs modulate their function, especially in phenotypic switching. Finally, we discuss recent progress in identifying small molecules targeting IDPs underscoring the potential therapeutic value of IDPs. Understanding structure and function of IDPs can not only provide new insight on cellular decision making but may also help to refine and extend Anfinsen's structure/function paradigm.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Biophysical Reviews, v. 3, issue 1, art. 011306