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Effect of Urea on the β-Hairpin Conformational Ensemble and Protein Denaturation Mechanism

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journal contribution
posted on 02.11.2011, 00:00 authored by Anna Berteotti, Alessandro Barducci, Michele Parrinello
Despite the daily use of urea to influence protein folding and stability, the molecular mechanism with which urea acts is still not well understood. Here the use of combined parallel tempering and metadynamics simulation allows us to study the free-energy landscape associated with the folding/unfolding of β-hairpin GB1 equilibrium in 8 M urea and pure water. The nature of the unfolded state in both solutions has been analyzed: in urea solution the addition of denaturants acts to expand the denatured state, while in pure water solution the unfolded state is noticeably more compact. For what concerns the mechanism by which urea acts as a denaturant, a preferential direct interaction between urea molecules and protein backbone has been found. However, the bias toward urea solvation is largest at intermediate values of the gyration radius.