Soundhararajan Gopi , Akashnathan Aranganathan , Athi N. Naganathan , Current Research in Structural Biology - Elsevier (2019) .
Statistical mechanical models that afford an intermediate resolution between macroscopic chemical models and all-atom simulations have been successful in capturing folding behaviors of many small single-domain proteins. However, the applicability of one such successful approach, the Wako-Saitô-Muñoz-Eaton (WSME) model, is limited by the size of the protein as the number of conformations grows exponentially with protein length. In this work, we surmount this size limitation by introducing a novel approximation that treats stretches of 3 or 4 residues as blocks, thus reducing the phase space by nearly three orders of magnitude. The performance of the ‘bWSME’ model is validated by comparing the predictions for a globular enzyme (RNase H) and a repeat protein (IκBα), against experimental observables and the model without block approximation. Finally, as a proof of concept, we predict the free-energy surface of the 370-residue, multi-domain maltose binding protein and identify an intermediate in good agreement with single-molecule force-spectroscopy measurements. The bWSME model can thus be employed as a quantitative predictive tool to explore the conformational landscapes of large proteins, extract the structural features of putative intermediates, identify parallel folding paths, and thus aid in the interpretation of both ensemble and single-molecule experiments.