Model for coupled insertion and folding of membrane-spanning proteins

Andrew C. Hausrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current understanding of the forces directing the folding of integral membrane proteins is very limited compared to the detailed picture available for water-soluble proteins. While mechanistic studies of the folding process in vitro have been conducted for only a small number of membrane proteins, the available evidence indicates that their folding process is thermodynamically driven like that of soluble proteins. In vivo, however, the majority of integral membrane proteins are installed in membranes by dedicated machinery, suggesting that the cellular systems may act to facilitate and regulate the spontaneous physical process of folding. Both the in vitro folding process and the in vivo pathway must navigate an energy landscape dominated by the energetically favorable burial of hydrophobic segments in the membrane interior and the opposition to folding due to the need for passage of polar segments across the membrane. This manuscript describes a simple, exactly solvable model which incorporates these essential features of membrane protein folding. The model is used to compare the folding time under conditions which depict both the in vitro and in vivo pathways. It is proposed that the cellular complexes responsible for insertion of membrane proteins act by lowering the energy barrier for passage of polar regions through the membrane, thereby allowing the chain to more rapidly achieve the folded state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022707
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 11 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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