Internal friction controls the speed of protein folding from a compact configuration.Biochemistry. 2004 Oct 05; 43(39):12532-8.B
Several studies have found millisecond protein folding reactions to be controlled by the viscosity of the solvent: Reducing the viscosity allows folding to accelerate. In the limit of very low solvent viscosity, however, one expects a different behavior. Internal interactions, occurring within the solvent-excluded interior of a compact molecule, should impose a solvent-independent upper limit to folding speed once the bulk diffusional motions become sufficiently rapid. Why has this not been observed? We have studied the effect of solvent viscosity on the folding of cytochrome c from a highly compact, late-stage intermediate configuration. Although the folding rate accelerates as the viscosity declines, it tends toward a finite limiting value approximately 10(5) s(-1) as the viscosity tends toward zero. This limiting rate is independent of the cosolutes used to adjust solvent friction. Therefore, interactions within the interior of a compact denatured polypeptide can limit the folding rate, but the limiting time scale is very fast. It is only observable when the solvent-controlled stages of folding are exceedingly rapid or else absent. Interestingly, we find a very strong temperature dependence in these "internal friction"-controlled dynamics, indicating a large energy scale for the interactions that govern reconfiguration within compact, near-native states of a protein.