Computational investigation of cold denaturation in the Trp-cage miniprotein

Sang Beom Kim, Jeremy C. Palmer, Pablo G. Debenedetti

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49 Scopus citations


The functional native states of globular proteins become unstable at low temperatures, resulting in cold unfolding and impairment of normal biological function. Fundamental understanding of this phenomenon is essential to rationalizing the evolution of freeze-tolerant organisms and developing improved strategies for long-term preservation of biological materials. We present fully atomistic simulations of cold denaturation of an α-helical protein, the widely studied Trp-cage miniprotein. In contrast to the significant destabilization of the folded structure at high temperatures, Trp-cage cold denatures at 210 K into a compact, partially folded state; major elements of the secondary structure, including the α-helix, are conserved, but the salt bridge between aspartic acid and arginine is lost. The stability of Trp-cage's α-helix at low temperatures suggests a possible evolutionary explanation for the prevalence of such structures in antifreeze peptides produced by coldweather species, such as Arctic char. Although the 310 -helix is observed at cold conditions, its position is shifted toward Trp-cage's C-terminus. This shift is accompanied by intrusion of water into Trp-cage's interior and the hydration of buried hydrophobic residues. However, our calculations also show that the dominant contribution to the favorable energetics of low-temperature unfolding of Trp-cage comes from the hydration of hydrophilic residues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8991-8996
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 9 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Cold denaturation
  • Protein folding
  • Trp-cage miniprotein


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