The Chicken–egg Scenario of Protein Folding Revisited

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What is the first step in protein folding – hydrophobic collapse (compaction) or secondary structure formation? It is still not clear if the major driving force in protein folding is hydrogen bonding or hydrophobic interactions or both. We analyzed data on the conformational characteristics of 41 globular proteins in native and partially folded conformational states. Our analysis shows that a good correlation exists between relative decrease in hydrodynamic volume and increase in secondary structure content. No compact equilibrium intermediates lacking secondary structure, or highly ordered non-compact species, were found. This correlation provides experimental support for the hypothesis that hydrophobic collapse occurs simultaneously with formation of secondary structure in the early stages of the protein folding.

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FEBS Letters, v. 515, issue 1-3, p. 79-83