A molecular dynamics simulation of the folding of conantokin-T (con-T), a short helical peptide with 5 helical turns of 21 amino acids with 10 charged residues, was carried out to examine folding pathways for this peptide and to predict the folding rate. In the 18 trajectories run at 300 K, 16 trajectories folded, with an averaged folding time of ∼50 ns. Two trajectories did not fold in up to 200 ns simulation. The folded structure in folded trajectories is in good agreement with experimental structure (Skjærbæk; et al. J. Biol. Chem. 1997, 272, 2291. Lin; et al. FEBS Lett. 1997, 407, 243). An analysis of the trajectories showed that, at the beginning of a few nanoseconds, helix formation started from residues 5-9 with assistance of a hydrophobic clustering involving Tyr5, Met8, and Leu9. The peptide formed a U-shape mainly due to charge-charge interactions between charged residues at the N- and C-terminus segments. In the next ∼10 ns, several nonnative charge -charge interactions were broken and nonnative Gla10-Lys18 (this denotes a salt bridge between Gal10 and Lys18) and/or Gla10-Lys19 interactions appeared more frequently in this folding step and the peptide became a fishhook J-shape. From this structure, the peptide folded to the folded state in 7 of all 16 folded trajectories in ∼15 ns. Alternatively, in ∼30 ns, the con-T went to a conformation in an L-shape with 4 helical turns and a kink at the Arg13 and Gla14 segment in the other 9 trajectories. Con-T in the L-shape then required another ∼15 ns to fold into the folded state. In addition, in overall folding times, the former 7 trajectories folded faster with the total folding times all shorter than 45 ns, while the latter 9 trajectories folded at a time longer than 45 ns, resulting in an average folding time of ∼50 ns. Two major folding intermediates found in 2 nonfolded trajectories are stabilized by charge clusters of 5 and 6 charged residues, respectively. With inclusion of friction and solvent-solvent interactions, which were ignored in the present GB/SA solvation model, the folding time obtained above should be multiplied by a factor of 1.25-1.7 according to a previous, similar simulation study. This results in a folding time of 65-105 ns, slightly shorter than the folding time of 127 ns for an alanine-based peptide of the same length. This suggests that the energy barrier of folding for this type of peptides with many charged residues is slightly lower than alanine-based helical peptides by less than 1 kcal/mol.
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