HYPK: A marginally disordered protein sensitive to charge decoration

Arash Firouzbakht, Austin Haider, Kari Gaalswyk, Sepehr Alaeen, Kingshuk Ghosh, Martin Gruebele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) that lie close to the empirical boundary separating IDPs and folded proteins in Uversky’s charge–hydropathy plot may behave as “marginal IDPs” and sensitively switch conformation upon changes in environment (temperature, crowding, and charge screening), sequence, or both. In our search for such a marginal IDP, we selected Huntingtin-interacting protein K (HYPK) near that boundary as a candidate; PKIα, also near that boundary, has lower secondary structure propensity; and Crk1, just across the boundary on the folded side, has higher secondary structure propensity. We used a qualitative Förster resonance energy transfer-based assay together with circular dichroism to simultaneously probe global and local conformation. HYPK shows several unique features indicating marginality: a cooperative transition in end-to-end distance with temperature, like Crk1 and folded proteins, but unlike PKIα; enhanced secondary structure upon crowding, in contrast to Crk1 and PKIα; and a cross-over from salt-induced expansion to compaction at high temperature, likely due to a structure-to-disorder transition not seen in Crk1 and PKIα. We then tested HYPK’s sensitivity to charge patterning by designing charge-flipped variants including two specific sequences with identical amino acid composition that markedly differ in their predicted size and response to salt. The experimentally observed trends, also including mutants of PKIα, verify the predictions from sequence charge decoration metrics. Marginal proteins like HYPK show features of both folded and disordered proteins that make them sensitive to physicochemical perturbations and structural control by charge patterning.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2316408121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number18
StatePublished - Apr 30 2024


  • sequence charge decoration
  • intrinsically disordered protein
  • Huntington’s disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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