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Single-Molecule Fluorescence Experiments Determine Protein Folding Transition Path Times

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Science  24 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6071, pp. 981-984
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215768

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Abstract

The transition path is the tiny fraction of an equilibrium molecular trajectory when a transition occurs as the free-energy barrier between two states is crossed. It is a single-molecule property that contains all the mechanistic information on how a process occurs. As a step toward observing transition paths in protein folding, we determined the average transition-path time for a fast- and a slow-folding protein from a photon-by-photon analysis of fluorescence trajectories in single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer experiments. Whereas the folding rate coefficients differ by a factor of 10,000, the transition-path times differ by a factor of less than 5, which shows that a fast- and a slow-folding protein take almost the same time to fold when folding actually happens. A very simple model based on energy landscape theory can explain this result.

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