Anfinsen’s principle asserts that all information required to specify the structure of a protein is encoded in its amino acid sequence. However, during protein synthesis by the ribosome, the N-terminus of the nascent chain can begin to fold before the C-terminus is available. We tested whether this cotranslational folding can alter the folded structure of an encoded protein in vivo, versus the structure formed when refolded in vitro. We designed a fluorescent protein consisting of three half-domains, where the N- and C-terminal half-domains compete with each other to interact with the central half-domain. The outcome of this competition determines the fluorescence properties of the resulting folded structure. Upon refolding after chemical denaturation, this protein produced equimolar amounts of the N- and C-terminal folded structures, respectively. In contrast, translation in Escherichia coli resulted in a 2-fold enhancement in the formation of the N-terminal folded structure. Rare synonymous codon substitutions at the 5′ end of the C-terminal half-domain further increased selection for the N-terminal folded structure. These results demonstrate that the rate at which a nascent protein emerges from the ribosome can specify the folded structure of a protein.
Via Bernard Offmann