Sequence Charge Decoration Dictates Coil-globule Transition in Intrinsically Disordered Proteins

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College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy


We present an analytical theory to compute conformations of heteropolymers—applicable to describe disordered proteins—as a function of temperature and charge sequence. The theory describes coil-globule transition for a given protein sequence when temperature is varied and has been benchmarked against the all-atom Monte Carlo simulation (using CAMPARI) of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). In addition, the model quantitatively shows how subtle alterations of charge placement in the primary sequence—while maintaining the same charge composition—can lead to significant changes in conformation, even as drastic as a coil (swelled above a purely random coil) to globule (collapsed below a random coil) and vice versa. The theory provides insights on how to control (enhance or suppress) these changes by tuning the temperature (or solution condition) and charge decoration. As an application, we predict the distribution of conformations (at room temperature) of all naturally occurring IDPs in the DisProt database and notice significant size variation even among IDPs with a similar composition of positive and negative charges. Based on this, we provide a new diagram-of-states delineating the sequence-conformation relation for proteins in the DisProt database. Next, we study the effect of post-translational modification, e.g., phosphorylation, on IDP conformations. Modifications as little as two-site phosphorylation can significantly alter the size of an IDP with everything else being constant (temperature, salt concentration, etc.). However, not all possible modification sites have the same effect on protein conformations; there are certain “hot spots” that can cause maximal change in conformation. The location of these “hot spots” in the parent sequence can readily be identified by using a sequence charge decoration metric originally introduced by Sawle and Ghosh. The ability of our model to predict conformations (both expanded and collapsed states) of IDPs at a high-throughput level can provide valuable insights into the different mechanisms by which phosphorylation/charge mutation controls IDP function.

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