Disordered flanks prevent peptide aggregation
Natively unstructured or disordered regions appear to be abundant in eukaryotic proteins. Many such regions have been found alongside small linear binding motifs. We report a Monte Carlo study that aims to elucidate the role of disordered regions adjacent to such binding motifs. The coarse-grained simulations show that small hydrophobic peptides without disordered flanks tend to aggregate under conditions where peptides embedded in unstructured peptide sequences are stable as monomers or as part of small micelle-like clusters. Surprisingly, the binding free energy of the motif is barely decreased by the presence of disordered flanking regions, although it is sensitive to the loss of entropy of the motif itself upon binding. This latter effect allows for reversible binding of the signalling motif to the substrate. The work provides insights into a mechanism that prevents the aggregation of signalling peptides, distinct from the general mechanism of protein folding, and provides a testable hypothesis to explain the abundance of disordered regions in proteins.