Reduced Native State Stability in Crowded Cellular Environment Due to Protein–Protein Interactions
The effect of cellular crowding environments on protein structure and stability is a key issue in molecular and cellular biology. The classical view of crowding emphasizes the volume exclusion effect that generally favors compact, native states. Here, results from molecular dynamics simulations and NMR experiments show that protein crowders may destabilize native states via protein?protein interactions. In the model system considered here, mixtures of villin head piece and protein G at high concentrations, villin structures become increasingly destabilized upon increasing crowder concentrations. The denatured states observed in the simulation involve partial unfolding as well as more subtle conformational shifts. The unfolded states remain overall compact and only partially overlap with unfolded ensembles at high temperature and in the presence of urea. NMR measurements on the same systems confirm structural changes upon crowding based on changes of chemical shifts relative to dilute conditions. An analysis of protein?protein interactions and energetic aspects suggests the importance of enthalpic and solvation contributions to the crowding free energies that challenge an entropic-centered view of crowding effects.