Incorrect folding of proteins in living cells may lead to malfunctioning of the cell machinery. To prevent such cellular disasters from happening, all cells contain molecular chaperones that assist nonnative proteins in folding into the correct native structure. One of the most studied chaperone complexes is the GroEL-GroES complex. The GroEL part has a "double-barrel" structure, which consists of two cylindrical chambers joined at the bottom in a symmetrical fashion. The hydrophobic rim of one of the GroEL chambers captures nonnative proteins. The GroES part acts as a lid that temporarily closes the filled chamber during the folding process. Several capture-folding-release cycles are required before the nonnative protein reaches its native state. Here we report molecular simulations that suggest that translocation of the nonnative protein through the equatorial plane of the complex boosts the efficiency of the chaperonin action. If the target protein is correctly folded after translocation, it is released. However, if it is still nonnative, it is likely to remain trapped in the second chamber, which then closes to start a reverse translocation process. This shuttling back and forth continues until the protein is correctly folded. Our model provides a natural explanation for the prevalence of double-barreled chaperonins. Moreover, we argue that internal folding is both more efficient and safer than a scenario where partially refolded proteins escape from the complex before being recaptured.

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Journal Biophys. J.
Coluzza, I, van der Vies, S. M, & Frenkel, D. (2006). Translocation boost protein-folding efficiency of double-barreled chaperonins. Biophys. J., 90, 3375–3381. doi:10.1529/biophysj.105.074898