Thermodynamic role of the pro region of the neurophysin precursor in neurophysin folding: Evidence from the effects of ligand peptides on folding
Attention has focused recently on the role of amino-terminal precursor pro regions in protein folding, with particular emphasis on their effects on folding kinetics. We examined the kinetic and thermodynamic effects of ligand peptides on the folding of neurophysin from the reduced state; these peptides serve as analogs of the pro regions of the common precursors of the neurophysins and the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. Folding of reduced, mononitrated bovine neurophysin-II was monitored by circular dichroism in a glutathione redox buffer. The results confirmed the ability of neurophysin to fold to a limited extent (20-25% in this system) in the absence of ligand peptides. Ligand peptides increased the efficiency of folding to 100%, the exact efficiency being dependent on peptide identity and concentration. However, the rate of folding was peptide-independent. Analysis of the folding reaction demonstrated relatively rapid conversion of the reduced state to a disulfide-scrambled state, which slowly converted (half-life of 5 h at pH 7.3) to the folded state. Native unliganded neurophysin also equilibrated with the disulfide-scrambled state in the same redox buffers. For each peptide, an equilibrium constant for the folding reaction, representing the amount of peptide bound in the folding system as a function of peptide concentration, was calculated. Comparison of this constant with the intrinsic binding constants of the native protein allowed the derivation, under conditions at or approaching thermodynamic reversibility, of the relative stability of the native and disulfide-scrambled states. The results indicate that the scrambled state, which probably represents the presence of incorrect disulfide pairs in both protein domains, is more stable than the native unliganded state by approximately 1 kcal/mol in this system. The role of ligand peptide therefore is to stabilize the folded protein after it is formed, i.e., it provides a thermodynamic sink. The results contrast with the putative behavior of exogenous peptides representative of the pro regions of subtilisin and alpha-lytic protease, which are generally considered to facilitate folding by reaction with folding intermediates. A potential alternative view of the role of propeptides in protease folding is suggested.