The mechanical stability of ubiquitin is linkage dependent

Nat Struct Biol. 2003 Sep;10(9):738-43. doi: 10.1038/nsb965. Epub 2003 Aug 17.


Ubiquitin chains are formed through the action of a set of enzymes that covalently link ubiquitin either through peptide bonds or through isopeptide bonds between their C terminus and any of four lysine residues. These naturally occurring polyproteins allow one to study the mechanical stability of a protein, when force is applied through different linkages. Here we used single-molecule force spectroscopy techniques to examine the mechanical stability of N-C-linked and Lys48-C-linked ubiquitin chains. We combined these experiments with steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations and found that the mechanical stability and unfolding pathway of ubiquitin strongly depend on the linkage through which the mechanical force is applied to the protein. Hence, a protein that is otherwise very stable may be easily unfolded by a relatively weak mechanical force applied through the right linkage. This may be a widespread mechanism in biological systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Kinetics
  • Lysine / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Molecular
  • Polyubiquitin / chemistry
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Ubiquitin / chemistry*


  • Ubiquitin
  • Polyubiquitin
  • Lysine