What Does It Mean to Be Natively Unfolded?

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Natively unfolded or intrinsically unstructured proteins constitute a unique group of the protein kingdom. The evolutionary persistence of such proteins represents strong evidence in the favor of their importance and raises intriguing questions about the role of protein disorders in biological processes. Additionally, natively unfolded proteins, with their lack of ordered structure, represent attractive targets for the biophysical studies of the unfolded polypeptide chain under physiological conditions in vitro. The goal of this study was to summarize the structural information on natively unfolded proteins in order to evaluate their major conformational characteristics. It appeared that natively unfolded proteins are characterized by low overall hydrophobicity and large net charge. They possess hydrodynamic properties typical of random coils in poor solvent, or premolten globule conformation. These proteins show a low level of ordered secondary structure and no tightly packed core. They are very flexible, but may adopt relatively rigid conformations in the presence of natural ligands. Finally, in comparison with the globular proteins, natively unfolded polypeptides possess ‘turn out’ responses to changes in the environment, as their structural complexities increase at high temperature or at extreme pH.

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European Journal of Biochemistry, v. 269, issue 1, p. 2-12