Having a high folding efficiency and a low tendency to aggregate, the superfolder GFP (sfGFP) offers a unique opportunity to study the folding of proteins that have a β-barrel topology. Here, we studied the unfolding-refolding of sfGFP that was induced by guanidine thiocyanate (GTC), which is a stronger denaturing agent than GdnHCl or urea. Structural perturbations of sfGFP were studied by spectroscopic methods (absorbance, fluorescence, and circular dichroism), by acrylamide quenching of tryptophan and green chromophore fluorescence, and by size-exclusion chromatography. Low concentrations of GTC (up to 0.1 M) induce subtle changes in the sfGFP structure. The pronounced changes in the visible absorption spectrum of sfGFP which are accompanied by a dramatic decrease in tryptophan and green chromophore fluorescence was recorded in the range 0-0.7 M GNC. These alterations of sfGFP characteristics that erroneously can be mixed up with appearance of intermediate state in fact have pure spectroscopic but not structural nature. Higher concentrations of GTC (from 0.7 to 1.7 M), induce a disruption of the sfGFP structure, that is manifested in simultaneous changes of all of the detected parameters. Full recovery of native properties of denaturated sfGFP was observed after denaturant removal. The refolding of sfGFP passes through the accumulation of the off-pathway intermediate state, in which inner alpha-helix and hence green chromophore and Trp57 are still not tuned up to (properly integrated into) the already formed β-barrel scaffold of protein. Incorporation of the chromophore in the β-barrel in the pathway of refolding and restoration of its ability to fluoresce occur in a narrow range of GTC concentrations from 1.0 to 0.7 M, and a correct insertion of Trp 57 occurs at concentrations ranging from 0.7 to 0 M GTC. These two processes determine the hysteresis of protein unfolding and refolding.
ASJC Scopus subject areas