Geometrical Frustration in Interleukin-33 Decouples the Dynamics of the Functional Element from the Folding Transition State Ensemble
Interleukin-33 (IL-33) is currently the focus of multiple investigations into targeting pernicious inflammatory disorders. This mediator of inflammation plays a prevalent role in chronic disorders such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and progressive heart disease. In order to better understand the possible link between the folding free energy landscape and functional regions in IL-33, a combined experimental and theoretical approach was applied. IL-33 is a pseudo- symmetrical protein composed of three distinct structural elements that complicate the folding mechanism due to competition for nucleation on the dominant folding route. Trefoil 1 constitutes the majority of the binding interface with the receptor whereas Trefoils 2 and 3 provide the stable scaffold to anchor Trefoil 1. We identified that IL-33 folds with a three-state mechanism, leading to a rollover in the refolding arm of its chevron plots in strongly native conditions. In addition, there is a second slower refolding phase that exhibits the same rollover suggesting similar limitations in folding along parallel routes. Characterization of the intermediate state and the rate limiting steps required for folding suggests that the rollover is attributable to a moving transition state, shifting from a post- to pre-intermediate transition state as you move from strongly native conditions to the midpoint of the transition. On a structural level, we found that initially, all independent Trefoil units fold equally well until a QCA of 0.35 when Trefoil 1 will backtrack in order to allow Trefoils 2 and 3 to fold in the intermediate state, creating a stable scaffold for Trefoil 1 to fold onto during the final folding transition. The formation of this intermediate state and subsequent moving transition state is a result of balancing the difficulty in folding the functionally important Trefoil 1 onto the remainder of the protein. Taken together our results indicate that the functional element of the protein is geometrically frustrated, requiring the more stable elements to fold first, acting as a scaffold for docking of the functional element to allow productive folding to the native state.