PLoS ONE, 3(4), e2149p. (2008) DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0002149

Implications from a Network-Based Topological Analysis of Ubiquitin Unfolding Simulations

A. Krishnan, A. Giuliani, J. P. Zbilut, M. Tomita

Background
The architectural organization of protein structures has been the focus of intense research since it can hopefully lead to an understanding of how proteins fold. In earlier works we had attempted to identify the inherent structural organization in proteins through a study of protein topology. We obtained a modular partitioning of protein structures with the modules correlating well with experimental evidence of early folding units or "foldons". Residues that connect different modules were shown to be those that were protected during the transition phase offolding.

Methodology/Principal Findings
In this work, we follow the topological path of ubiquitin through molecular dynamics unfolding simulations. We observed that the use of recurrence quantification analysis (RQA) could lead to the identification of the transition state during unfolding. Additionally, our earlier contention that the modules uncovered through our graph partitioning approach correlated well with early folding units was vindicated through our simulations. Moreover, residues identified from native structure as connector hubs and which had been shown to be those that were protected during the transition phase of folding were indeed more stable (less flexible) well beyond the transition state. Further analysis of the topological pathway suggests that the all pairs shortest path in a protein is minimized during folding.

Conclusions
We observed that treating a protein native structure as a network by having amino acid residues as nodes and the non-covalent interactions among them as links allows for the rationalization of many aspects of the folding process. The possibility to derive this information directly from 3D structure opens the way to the prediction of important residues in proteins, while the confirmation of the minimization of APSP for folding allows for the establishment of a potentially useful proxy for kinetic optimality in the validation of sequence-structure predictions.

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