Microsecond Rearrangements of Hydrophobic Clusters in an Initially Collapsed Globule Prime Structure Formation during the Folding of a Small Protein

J Mol Biol. 2016 Jul 31;428(15):3102-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2016.06.015. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


Determining how polypeptide chain collapse initiates structure formation during protein folding is a long standing goal. It has been challenging to characterize experimentally the dynamics of the polypeptide chain, which lead to the formation of a compact kinetic molten globule (MG) in about a millisecond. In this study, the sub-millisecond events that occur early during the folding of monellin from the guanidine hydrochloride-unfolded state have been characterized using multiple fluorescence and fluorescence resonance energy transfer probes. The kinetic MG is shown to form in a noncooperative manner from the unfolded (U) state as a result of at least three different processes happening during the first millisecond of folding. Initial chain compaction completes within the first 37μs, and further compaction occurs only after structure formation commences at a few milliseconds of folding. The transient nonnative and native-like hydrophobic clusters with side chains of certain residues buried form during the initial chain collapse and the nonnative clusters quickly disassemble. Subsequently, partial chain desolvation occurs, leading to the formation of a kinetic MG. The initial chain compaction and subsequent chain rearrangement appear to be barrierless processes. The two structural rearrangements within the collapsed globule appear to prime the protein for the actual folding transition.

Keywords: collapse; microsecond mixing; monellin; multi-site FRET; sub-millisecond folding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / methods
  • Guanidine / chemistry
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry*


  • Proteins
  • Guanidine