The kinetics of triple helix formation from single non-crosslinked peptide chains were studied for the collagen models (ProProGly)10 and (ProHypGly)10 in a broad concentration range and compared with those in nucleated trimers. At very low peptide concentrations the reaction order is 3 but decreases at higher concentrations. For (ProProGly)10 the third order rate constant is 800 M(-2) x s(-1) at 7 degrees C, which corresponds to a very long half time of 15 hours at 60 microM chain concentration. For (ProHypGly)10 the rate constant is about 1000-fold higher, which is consistent with the stabilizing effect of 4-hydroxyproline in collagens. The concentration dependence of the reaction order is explained by a nucleation mechanism in which a very unstable dimer is in fast equilibrium with the monomeric chains and addition of the third chain occurs in a rate-limiting step. At high concentrations nucleation is faster than propagation of helix formation and propagation becomes rate-limiting. To test this hypothesis an artificial nucleus was introduced by fusion of (ProProGly)10 with the trimeric foldon domain of T4 phage or the crosslinking domain of collagen III GlyProProGlyProCysCysGlyGlyGly. These domains were recombinantly attached to the C terminus of (GlyProPro)10 and link the three chains in a similar way to the C-terminal propeptide domain in collagen III. This results in a local intrinsic chain concentration of about 1 M. A first order reaction is observed for the folding of the triple helix in (GlyProPro)10foldon with a half time of 8.3 minutes, which approximately matches the rate of folding from single chains at 1 M peptide concentration. A high activation energy of 54 kJ/mol is found for this reaction, whereas the temperature dependence of the nucleation step is close to zero, confirming earlier findings on natural collagens that cis-trans isomerization of peptide bonds is the rate-limiting step in propagation.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.