Rat intestinal fatty acid binding protein (IFABP) displays an intermediate with little if any secondary structure during unfolding, while the structurally homologous rat ileal lipid binding protein (ILBP) displays an intermediate during unfolding with nativelike secondary structure. Double-jump experiments indicate that these intermediates are on the folding path for each protein. To test the hypothesis that differences in the number of buried hydrophobic atoms in a folding initiating site are responsible for the different types of intermediates observed for these proteins, two mutations (F68C-IFABP and C69F-ILBP) were made that swapped a more hydrophobic residue for a more hydrophilic residue in the respective cores of these two proteins. F68C-IFABP followed an unfolding path identical to that of WT-ILBP with an intermediate that showed nativelike secondary structure, whereas C69F-ILBP followed an unfolding path that was identical to that of WT-IFABP with an intermediate that lacked secondary structure. Further, a hydrophilic residue was introduced at an identical hydrophobic structural position in both proteins (F93S-IFABP and F94S-ILBP). Replacement of phenylalanine with serine at this site led to the appearance of an intermediate during refolding that lacked secondary structure for both proteins that was not detected for either parental protein. Altering the chemical characteristics and/or size of residues within an initiating core of hydrophobic interactions is critical to the types of intermediates that are observed during the folding of these proteins.
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