In silico protein dynamics in the human cytoplasm: Partial folding, misfolding, fold switching, and non-native interactions

Premila P.Samuel Russell, Meredith M. Rickard, Mayank Boob, Martin Gruebele, Taras V. Pogorelov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine the influence of cellular interactions in all-atom models of a section of the Homo sapiens cytoplasm on the early folding events of the three-helix bundle protein B (PB). While genetically engineered PB is known to fold in dilute water box simulations in three microseconds, the three initially unfolded PB copies in our two cytoplasm models using a similar force field did not reach the native state during 30-microsecond simulations. We did however capture the formation of all three helices in a compact native-like topology. Folding in vivo is delayed because intramolecular contact formation within PB is in direct competition with intermolecular contacts between PB and surrounding macromolecules. In extreme cases, intermolecular beta-sheets are formed. Interactions with other macromolecules are also observed to promote structure formation, for example when a PB helix in our simulations is shielded from solvent by macromolecular crowding. Sticking and crowding in our models initiate sampling of helix/sheet structural plasticity of PB. Relatedly, in past in vitro experiments, similar GA domains were shown to switch between two different folds. Finally, we also observed that stickiness between PB and the cellular environment can be modulated in our simulations through the reduction in protein hydrophobicity when we reversed PB back to the wild-type sequence. This study demonstrates that even fast-folding proteins can get stuck in non-native states in the cell, making them useful models for protein–chaperone interactions and early stages of aggregate formation relevant to cellular disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4790
JournalProtein Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • albumin-binding protein
  • in-cell
  • molecular dynamics
  • protein aggregation
  • α-helix
  • β-strand

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry


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