Protein folding is the process by which a protein gets its functional shape or 'conformation'. It is mainly a self-organising process. Starting from a random coil, polypeptides fold into their characteristic working shape. The structure is held together by hydrogen bonds.
The stages are:
- Each protein exists as an unfolded polypeptide or random coil when translated from a sequence of mRNA to a linear chain of amino acids. This polypeptide lacks any developed three-dimensional structure (left hand side of the top figure).
- Amino acids interact with each other to produce a well-defined three-dimensional structure, the folded protein (right hand side of the figure). This is known as the native state. The resulting three-dimensional structure is determined by the amino acid sequence (Anfinsen's dogma).
Without its correct three-dimensional structure a protein does not work. However, some parts of proteins may not fold: this is normal.
If proteins do not fold into their native shape, they are inactive and are usually toxic. Several diseases are believed to result from misfolded proteins. Many allergies are caused by the folding of the proteins, for the immune system does not produce antibodies for all possible protein structures.
- Alberts, Bruce et al (2002). "The shape and structure of proteins". Molecular biology of the cell. New York: 4th ed, Garland Science. ISBN 0-8153-3218-1.
- Anfinsen C. (1972). "The formation and stabilization of protein structure". Biochem. J. 128 (4): 737–49. PMC 1173893. PMID 4565129.
- Berg, Jeremy M; Tymoczko, John L. & Stryer, Lubert. Web content by Neil D. Clarke (2002). "3. Protein structure and function". Biochemistry. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-4684-0. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Search&db=books&doptcmdl=GenBookHL&term=stryer%5Bbook%5D+AND+215168%5Buid%5D&rid=stryer.chapter.280.
- Selkoe, Dennis J. (2003). "Folding proteins in fatal ways". Nature 426 (6968): 900–904. doi:10.1038/nature02264. PMID 14685251. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v426/n6968/full/nature02264.html.
- Alberts, Bruce et al 2010. Protein structure and function. In Essential cell biology. 3rd ed, New York: Garland Science, 120-170.