Journal article Open Access

The protein folding 'speed limit'

Kubelka, Jan; Hofrichter, James; Eaton, William A.

How fast can a protein possibly fold? This question has stimulated experimentalists to seek fast folding proteins and to engineer them to fold even faster. Proteins folding at or near the speed limit are prime candidates for all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. They may also have no free energy barrier, allowing the direct observation of intermediate structures on the pathways from the unfolded to the folded state. Both experimental and theoretical approaches predict a speed limit of approximately N/100micros for a generic N-residue single-domain protein, with alpha proteins folding faster than beta or alphabeta. The predicted limits suggest that most known ultrafast folding proteins can be engineered to fold more than ten times faster.

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