Protein sequences evolved to fold in cells, including cotranslational folding of nascent polypeptide chains during their synthesis by the ribosome. The vectorial (N- to C-terminal) nature of cotranslational folding constrains the conformations of the nascent polypeptide chain in a manner not experienced by full-length chains diluted out of denaturant. We are still discovering to what extent these constraints affect later, posttranslational folding events. Here we directly address whether conformational constraints imposed by cotranslational folding affect the partitioning between productive folding to the native structure versus aggregation. We isolated polyribosomes from Escherichia coli cells expressing GFP, analyzed the nascent chain length distribution to determine the number of nascent chains that were long enough to fold to the native fluorescent structure, and calculated the folding yield for these nascent chains upon ribosome release versus the folding yield of an equivalent concentration of full-length, chemically denatured GFP polypeptide chains. We find that the yield of native fluorescent GFP is dramatically higher upon ribosome release of nascent chains versus dilution of full-length chains from denaturant. For kinetically trapped native structures such as GFP, folding correctly the first time, immediately after release from the ribosome, can lead to lifelong population of the native structure, as opposed to aggregation.
Copyright (c) 2010 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.