Using stopped-flow fluorescence techniques, we have examined both the refolding and unfolding reactions of four structurally homologous dihydrofolate reductases (murine DHFR, wild-type E. coli DHFR, and two E. coli DHFR mutants) in the presence and absence of the molecular chaperonin GroEL. We show that GroEL binds the unfolded conformation of each DHFR with second order rate constants greater than 3 x 107 M-1s-1 at 22°C. Once bound to GroEL, the proteins refold with rate constants similar to those for folding in the absence of GroEL. The overall rate of formation of native enzyme is decreased by the stability of the complex between GroEL and the last folding intermediate. For wild-type E. coli DHFR, complex formation is transient while for the others, a stable complex is formed. The stable complexes are the same regardless of whether they are formed from the unfolded or folded DHFR. When complex formation is initiated from the native conformation, GroEL binds to a pre-existing non-native conformation, presumably a late folding intermediate, rather than to the native state, thus shifting the conformational equilibrium toward the non-native species by mass action. The model presented here for the interaction of these four proteins with GroEL quantitatively describes the difference between the formation of a transient complex and a stable complex as defined by the rate constants for release and rebinding to GroEL relative to the rate constant for the last folding step. Due to this kinetic partitioning, three different mechanisms can be proposed for the formation of stable complexes between GroEL and either murine DHFR or the two E. coli DHFR mutants. These data show that productive folding of GroEL-bound proteins can occur in the absence of nucleotides or the co-chaperonin GroES and suggest that transient complex formation may be the functional role of GroEL under normal conditions.
- Protein folding
- Stopped-flow fluorescence