Efforts to enhance the stability of proteins by introducing engineered disulfide bonds have resulted in mixed success. Most approaches to the prediction of the energetic consequences of disulfide bond formation in proteins have considered only the destabilizing effects of cross-links on the unfolded state (chain entropy model) [Pace, C. N., Grimsley, G. R., Thomson, J. A., and Barnett, B. J. (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 11820-11825; Doig, A. J. and Williams, D. H. (1991) J. Mol. Biol. 217, 389-398]. It seems clear, however, that disulfide bridges also can influence the stability of the native state. In order to assess the importance of the latter effect, we have studied four variants of staphylococcal nuclease (V8 strain) each containing one potential disulfide bridge created by changing two wild-type residues to cysteines by site-directed mutagenesis. In each case, one of the introduced cysteines was within the type VI(a) β turn containing cis Pro117, and the other was located in the adjacent extended loop containing Gly79. In all four cases, the overall loop size was kept nearly constant (the number of residues in the loop between the two cysteines varied from 37 to 42) so as to minimize differences from chain entropy effects. The objective was to create variants in which a change in the reduction state of the disulfide would be coupled to a change in the position of the equilibrium between the cis and trans forms of the Xxx116-Pro117 peptide bond in the folded state of the protein. The position of this equilibrium, which can be detected by NMR spectroscopy, has been shown previously to correlate with the stability of the native protein. Its determination provides a measure of strain in the folded state. The thermal stabilities and free energies for unfolding by elevated temperature and guanidinium chloride were measured for each of the four mutants under conditions in which the introduced cysteines were cross- linked (oxidized) and unlinked (reduced). In addition, reduction potentials were determined for each mutant. Formation of the different disulfide bridges was found to induce varying levels of folded state strain. The stabilization energy of a given disulfide bridge could be predicted from the measured perturbation energy for the peptide bond isomerization, provided that energetic effects on the unfolded state were calculated according to the chain entropy model. Undiagnosed strain in native states of proteins may explain the variability observed in the stabilization provided by engineered disulfide bridges.
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