From Levinthal to pathways to funnels

Nat Struct Biol. 1997 Jan;4(1):10-9. doi: 10.1038/nsb0197-10.


While the classical view of protein folding kinetics relies on phenomenological models, and regards folding intermediates in a structural way, the new view emphasizes the ensemble nature of protein conformations. Although folding has sometimes been regarded as a linear sequence of events, the new view sees folding as parallel microscopic multi-pathway diffusion-like processes. While the classical view invoked pathways to solve the problem of searching for the needle in the haystack, the pathway idea was then seen as conflicting with Anfinsen's experiments showing that folding is pathway-independent (Levinthal's paradox). In contrast, the new view sees no inherent paradox because it eliminates the pathway idea: folding can funnel to a single stable state by multiple routes in conformational space. The general energy landscape picture provides a conceptual framework for understanding both two-state and multi-state folding kinetics. Better tests of these ideas will come when new experiments become available for measuring not just averages of structural observables, but also correlations among their fluctuations. At that point we hope to learn much more about the real shapes of protein folding landscapes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical
  • Protein Folding*