Studies of synthetic polyglutamine peptides in vitro have established that polyglutamine peptides aggregate via a classic nucleation and growth mechanism. Chen and colleagues [Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2002;99:11884-11889] have found that monomeric polyglutamine, which is a disordered statistical coil in solution, is the critical nucleus for aggregation. Therefore, nucleation of β-sheet-rich aggregates requires an initial disorder to order transition, which is a highly unfavorable thermodynamic reaction. The questions of interest to us are as follows: What are the statistical fluctuations that drive β-sheet formation in monomeric polyglutamine? How do these fluctuations vary with chain length? And why is this process thermodynamically unfavorable, that is, why is monomeric polyglutamine disordered? To answer these questions we use multiple molecular dynamics simulations to provide quantitative characterization of conformational ensembles for two short polyglutamine peptides. We find that the ensemble for polyglutamine is indeed disordered. However, the disorder is inherently different from that of denatured proteins and the average compactness and magnitude of conformational fluctuations increase with chain length. Most importantly, the effective concentration of sidechain primary amides around backbone units is inherently high and peptide units are solvated either by hydrogen bonds to sidechains or surrounding water molecules. Due to the multiplicity of backbone solvation modes the probability associated with any specific backbone conformation is small, resulting in a conformational entropy bottleneck which makes β-sheet formation in monomeric polyglutamine thermodynamically unfavorable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-311
Number of pages15
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2006


  • Aggregation
  • Disorder
  • Nucleation
  • Order parameter
  • Polyglutamine
  • β-sheet


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the conformational ensemble of monomeric polyglutamine'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this