Interactions between the ribosome and nascent chain can destabilize folded domains in the ribosome exit tunnel's vestibule, the last 3 nm of the exit tunnel where tertiary folding can occur. Here, we test if a contribution to this destabilization is a weakening of hydrophobic association, the driving force for protein folding. Using all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, we calculate the potential-of-mean force between two methane molecules along the center line of the ribosome exit tunnel and in bulk solution. Associated methanes, we find, are half as stable in the ribosome's vestibule as compared to bulk solution, demonstrating that the hydrophobic effect is weakened by the presence of the ribosome. This decreased stability arises from a decrease in the amount of water entropy gained upon the association of the methanes. And this decreased entropy gain originates from water molecules being more ordered in the vestibule as compared to bulk solution. Therefore, the hydrophobic effect is weaker in the vestibule because waters released from the first solvation shell of methanes upon association do not gain as much entropy in the vestibule as they do upon release in bulk solution. These findings mean that nascent proteins pass through a ribosome vestibule environment that can destabilize folded structures, which has the potential to influence co-translational protein folding pathways, energetics, and kinetics.
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