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Bacteriorhodopsin Folds through a Poorly Organized Transition State

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The folding mechanisms of helical membrane proteins remain largely uncharted. Here we characterize the kinetics of bacteriorhodopsin folding and employ φ-value analysis to explore the folding transition state. First, we developed and confirmed a kinetic model that allowed us to assess the rate of folding from SDS-denatured bacteriorhodopsin (bRU) and provides accurate thermodynamic information even under influence of retinal hydrolysis. Next, we obtained reliable φ-values for 16 mutants of bacteriorhodopsin with good coverage across the protein. Every φ-value was less than 0.4, indicating the transition state is not uniquely structured. We suggest that the transition state is a loosely organized ensemble of conformations.

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