Recipes for inducing cold denaturation in an otherwise stable protein

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Although cold denaturation is a fundamental phenomenon common to all proteins, it can only be observed in a handful of cases where it occurs at temperatures above the freezing point of water. Understanding the mechanisms that determine cold denaturation and the rules that permit its observation is an important challenge. A way to approach them is to be able to induce cold denaturation in an otherwise stable protein by means of mutations. Here, we studied CyaY, a relatively stable bacterial protein with no detectable cold denaturation and a high melting temperature of 54 °C. We have characterized for years the yeast orthologue of CyaY, Yfh1, a protein that undergoes cold and heat denaturation at 5 and 35 °C, respectively. We demonstrate that, by transferring to CyaY the lessons learnt from Yfh1, we can induce cold denaturation by introducing a restricted number of carefully designed mutations aimed at destabilizing the overall fold and inducing electrostatic frustration. We used molecular dynamics simulations to rationalize our findings and demonstrate the individual effects observed experimentally with the various mutants. Our results constitute the first example of rationally designed cold denaturation and demonstrate the importance of electrostatic frustration on the mechanism of cold denaturation.

Journal details

Volume 144
Issue number 16
Pages 7198-7207
Available online
Publication date

Crick labs/facilities