The Dominant Folding Route Minimizes Backbone Distortion in SH3
Noel, Jeffrey K.
Onuchic, Jose´ N.
Energetic frustration in protein folding is minimized by evolution to create a smooth and robust energy landscape. As a result the geometry of the native structure provides key constraints that shape protein folding mechanisms. Chain connectivity in particular has been identified as an essential component for realistic behavior of protein folding models. We study the quantitative balance of energetic and geometrical influences on the folding of SH3 in a structure-based model with minimal energetic frustration. A decomposition of the two-dimensional free energy landscape for the folding reaction into relevant energy and entropy contributions reveals that the entropy of the chain is not responsible for the folding mechanism. Instead the preferred folding route through the transition state arises from a cooperative energetic effect. Off-pathway structures are penalized by excess distortion in local backbone configurations and contact pair distances. This energy cost is a new ingredient in the malleable balance of interactions that controls the choice of routes during protein folding.