Flavodoxin has been recently recognized as an essential protein for a number of pathogenic bacteria including Helicobacter pylori, where it has been proposed to constitute a target for antibacterial drug development. One way we are exploring to screen for novel inhibitory compounds is to perform thermal upshift assays, for which a detailed knowledge of protein thermostability and cofactor binding properties is of great help. However, very little is known on the stability and ligand binding properties of H. pylori flavodoxin, and its peculiar FMN binding site together with the variety of behaviors observed within the flavodoxin family preclude extrapolations. We have thus performed a detailed experimental and computational analysis of the thermostability and cofactor binding energetics of H. pylori flavodoxin, and we have found that the thermal unfolding equilibrium is more complex that any other previously described for flavodoxins as it involves the accumulation of two distinct equilibrium intermediates. Fortunately the entire stability and binding data can be satisfactorily fitted to a model, summarized in a simple phase diagram, where the cofactor only binds to the native state. On the other hand, we show how variability of thermal unfolding behavior within the flavodoxin family can be predicted using structure-energetics relationships implemented in the COREX algorithm. The different distribution and ranges of local stabilities of the Anabaena and H. pylori apoflavodoxins explain the essential experimental differences observed: much lower Tm1, greater resistance to global unfolding, and more pronounced cold denaturation in H. pylori. Finally, a new strategy is proposed to identify using COREX structural characteristics of equilibrium intermediate states populated during protein unfolding.
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