Spontaneous Unfolding and Refolding of FNIII Domains Assayed by Thiol Exchange
Fibronectin (FN) is a large extracellular matrix (ECM) protein that is made up of
type I (FNI), type II (FNII), & type III (FNIII) domains. It assembles into an insoluble
supra-‐‑molecular structure: the fibrillar FN matrix. FN fibrillogenesis is a cell‐‑mediated process, which is initiated when FN binds to integrins on the cell surface. The FN matrix plays an important role in cell migration, proliferation, signaling & adhesion. Despite decades of research, the FN matrix is one of the least understood supra-‐‑molecular protein assemblies. There have been several attempts to elucidate the exact mechanism of matrix assembly resulting in significant progress in the field but it is still unclear as to what are FN-‐‑FN interactions, the nature of these interactions and the domains of FN that
are in contact with each other. FN matrix fibrils are elastic in nature. Two models have been proposed to explain the elasticity of the fibrils. The first model: the ‘domain unfolding’ model postulates that the unraveling of FNIII domains under tension explains fibril elasticity.
The second model relies on the conformational change of FN from compact to extended to explain fibril elasticity. FN contain 15 FNIII domains, each a 7-‐‑strand beta sandwich. Earlier work from our lab used the technique of labeling a buried Cys to study the ‘domain unfolding’ model. They used mutant FNs containing a buried Cys in a single FNIII domain and found that 6 of the 15 FNIII domains label in matrix fibrils. Domain unfolding due to tension, matrix associated conformational changes or spontaneous folding and unfolding are all possible explanation for labeling of the buried Cys. The present study also uses the technique of labeling a buried Cys to address whether it is spontaneous folding and unfolding that labels FNIII domains in cell culture. We used thiol reactive DTNB to measure the kinetics of labeling of buried Cys in eleven FN III domains over a wide range of urea concentrations (0-‐‑9M). The kinetics data were globally fit using Mathematica. The results are equivalent to those of H-‐‑D exchange, and
provide a comprehensive analysis of stability and unfolding/folding kinetics of each
domain. For two of the six domains spontaneous folding and unfolding is possibly the reason for labeling in cell culture. For the rest of the four domains it is probably matrix associated conformational changes or tension induced unfolding.
A long-‐‑standing debate in the protein-‐‑folding field is whether unfolding rate
constants or folding rate constants correlate to the stability of a protein. FNIII domains all have the same ß sandwich structure but very different stabilities and amino acid sequences. Our study analyzed the kinetics of unfolding and folding and stabilities of eleven FNIII domains and our results show that folding rate constants for FNIII domains are relatively similar and the unfolding rates vary widely and correlate to stability. FN forms a fibrillar matrix and the FN-‐‑FN interactions during matrix fibril formation are not known. FNI 1-‐‑9 or the N-‐‑ terminal region is indispensible for matrix formation and its major binding partner has been shown to be FNIII 2. Earlier work from our lab, using FRET analysis showed that the interaction of FNI 1-‐‑9 with a destabilized FNIII 2 (missing the G strand, FNIII 2ΔG) reduces the FRET efficiency. This efficiency is restored in the presence of FUD (bacterial adhesion from S. pyogenes) that has been known to interact with FNI 1-‐‑9 via a tandem ß zipper. In the present study we
use FRET analysis and a series of deletion mutants of FNIII 2ΔG to study the shortest fragment of FNIII 2ΔG that is required to bind FNI 1-‐‑9. Our results presented here are qualitative and show that FNIII 2ΔC’EFG is the shortest fragment required to bind FNI 1-‐‑9. Deletion of one more strand abolishes the interaction with FNI 1-‐‑9.
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