Molecular basis of cooperativity in protein folding IV. Core: A general cooperative folding model

Ernesto Freire, Donald T. Haynie, Dong Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The cooperative nature of the protein folding process is independent of the characteristic fold and the specific secondary structure attributes of a globular protein. A general folding/unfolding model should, therefore, be based upon structural features that transcend the peculiarities of α‐helices, β‐sheets, and other structural motifs found in proteins. The studies presented in this paper suggest that a single structural characteristic common to all globular proteins is essential for cooperative folding. The formation of a partly folded state from the native state results in the exposure to solvent of two distinct regions: (1) the portions of the protein that are unfolded; and (2) the “complementary surfaces,” located in the regions of the protein that remain folded. The cooperative character of the folding/unfolding transition is determined largely by the energetics of exposing complementary surface regions to the solvent. By definition, complementary regions are present only in partly folded states; they are absent from the native and unfolded states. An unfavorable free energy lowers the probability of partly folded states and increases the cooperativity of the transition. In this paper we present a mathematical formulation of this behavior and develop a general cooperative folding/unfolding model, termed the “complementary region” (CORE) model. This model successfully reproduces the main properties of folding/unfolding transitions without limiting the number of partly folded states accessible to the protein, thereby permitting a systematic examination of the structural and solvent conditions under which intermediates become populated. It is shown that the CORE model predicts two‐state folding/unfolding behavior, even though the two‐state character is not assumed in the model. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalProteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1993


  • cooperativity
  • folding intermediates
  • protein folding
  • protein thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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