Experimental studies show that many proteins fold along sequential pathways defined by folding intermediates. An intermediate may not always be a single population of molecules but may consist of subpopulations that differ in their average structure. These subpopulations are likely to fold via independent pathways. Parallel folding and unfolding pathways appear to arise because of structural heterogeneity. For some proteins, the folding pathways can effectively switch either because different subpopulations of an intermediate get populated under different folding conditions, or because intermediates on otherwise hidden pathways get stabilized, leading to their utilization becoming discernible, or because mutations stabilize different substructures. Therefore, the same protein may fold via different pathways in different folding conditions. Multiple folding pathways make folding robust, and evolution is likely to have selected for this robustness to ensure that a protein will fold under the varying conditions prevalent in different cellular contexts.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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