Horse heart cytochrome c is one of a small number of proteins for which the folding pathway has been elucidated in structural detail by pulsed hydrogen exchange and NMR. Those studies indicated that a partially folded intermediate with interacting N- and C-terminal helices is formed at an early stage of folding when most of the chain is still disordered. This report describes a peptide model for this early intermediate, consisting of a noncovalent complex between a heme-containing N-terminal fragment (residues 1–38) and a synthetic peptide corresponding to the C-terminal helix (residues 87–104). Far-UV circular dichroism and proton NMR indicate that the isolated peptides are largely disordered, but when combined, they form a flexible, yet tightly bound complex with enhanced helical structure. These results emphasize the importance of interactions between marginally stable elements of secondary structure in forming tertiary subdomains in protein folding.
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