Stretching biomolecules

RNA & Protein folding

Molecular Motors

Single molecule force spectroscopy

Deciphering the energy landscape of biomolecules

Polymer Physics


Stretching Biomolecules

Mechanical Unfolding of RNA ha
irpins (PNAS '05)

Mechanical unfolding trajectories, generated by applying constant force in optical-tweezer experiments, show that RNA hairpins and the P5abc subdomain of the group I intron unfold reversibly. We use coarse-grained Go-like models for RNA hairpins to explore forced unfolding over a broad range of temperatures. A number of predictions that are amenable to experimental tests are made. At the critical force, the hairpin jumps between folded and unfolded conformations without populating any discernible intermediates. The phase diagram in the force vs temperature (f, T) plane shows that the hairpin unfolds by an all-or-none process. The cooperativity of the unfolding transition increases dramatically at low temperatures. Free energy of stability, obtained from time averages of mechanical unfolding trajectories, coincides with ensemble averages, which establishes ergodicity.The hopping time between the native basin of attraction (NBA) and the unfolded basin increases dramatically along the phase boundary. Thermal unfolding is stochastic, whereas mechanical unfolding occurs in "quantized steps" with great variations in the step lengths. Refolding times, upon force quench, from stretched states to the NBA are at least an order of magnitude greater than folding times by temperature quench. Upon force quench from stretched states, the NBA is reached in at least three stages. In the initial stages, the mean end-to-end distance decreases nearly continuously, and there is a sudden transition to the NBA only in the last stage. Because of the generality of the results, we propose that similar behavior should be observed in force quench refolding of proteins.

Mechanical unfolding of RNA: from Hairpins to structures with internal multiloops (Biophys. J. '07)

Mechanical unfolding of RNA structures, ranging from hairpins to ribozymes, using laser optical tweezer experiments have begun to reveal the features of the energy landscape that cannot be easily explored using conventional experiments. Upon application of constant force (f), RNA hairpins undergo cooperative transitions from folded to unfolded states whereas subdomains of ribozymes unravel one at a time. Here, we use a self-organized polymer model and Brownian dynamics simulations to probe mechanical unfolding at constant force and constant-loading rate of four RNA structures of varying complexity. For simple hairpins, such as P5GA, application of constant force or constant loading rate results in bistable cooperative transitions between folded and unfolded states without populating any intermediates. The transition state location (Formula) changes dramatically as the loading rate is varied. At loading rates comparable to those used in laser optical tweezer experiments, the hairpin is plastic, with Formula being midway between folded and unfolded states; whereas at high loading rates, Formula moves close to the folded state, i.e., RNA is brittle. For the 29-nucleotide TAR RNA with the three-nucleotide bulge, unfolding occurs in a nearly two-state manner with an occasional pause in a high free energy metastable state. Forced unfolding of the 55 nucleotides of the Hepatitis IRES domain IIa, which has a distorted L-shaped structure, results in well-populated stable intermediates. The most stable force-stabilized intermediate represents straightening of the L-shaped structure. For these structures, the unfolding pathways can be predicted using the contact map of the native structures. Unfolding of a RNA motif with internal multiloop, namely, the 109-nucleotide prohead RNA that is part of the {phi}29 DNA packaging motor, at constant value of rf occurs with three distinct rips that represent unraveling of the paired helices. The rips represent kinetic barriers to unfolding. Our work shows 1), the response of RNA to force is largely determined by the native structure; and 2), only by probing mechanical unfolding over a wide range of forces can the underlying energy landscape be fully explored.

Pathways and Kinetic Barriers in Mechanical Unfolding and Refolding of RNA and Proteins (Structure '06)

Using self-organized polymer models, we predict mechanical unfolding and refolding pathways of ribozymes, and the green fluorescent protein. In agreement with experiments, there are between six and eight unfolding transitions in the Tetrahymena ribozyme. Depending on the loading rate, the number of rips in the force-ramp unfolding of the Azoarcus ribozymes is between two and four. Force-quench refolding of the P4-P6 subdomain of the Tetrahymena ribozyme occurs through a compact intermediate. Subsequent formation of tertiary contacts between helices P5b-P6a and P5a/P5c-P4 leads to the native state. The force-quench refolding pathways agree with ensemble experiments. In the dominant unfolding route, the N-terminal greek small letter alpha helix of GFP unravels first, followed by disruption of the N terminus 占쏙옙 strand. There is a third intermediate that involves disruption of three other strands. In accord with experiments, the force-quench refolding pathway of GFP is hierarchic, with the rate-limiting step being the closure of the barrel.

Contact Information : Changbong Hyeon, Professor, School of Computational Sciences, Korea Institute for Advanced Study , Seoul 02455, Republic of Korea
+82-2-958-3810 (tel)

© 2010 KIAS Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group