Molecular elasticity is a physicomechanical property that is associated with a select number of polypeptides and proteins, such as the giant muscle protein, titin, and the extracellular matrix protein, tenascin. Both proteins have been the subject of atomic force microscopy (AFM), laser tweezer, and other in vitro methods for examining the effects of force extension on the globular (FNIII/Ig-like) domains that comprise each protein. In this report we present a time-dependent method for simulating AFM force extension and its effect on FNIII/Ig domain unfolding and refolding. This method treats the unfolding and refolding process as a standard three-state protein folding model (U ⇆ T ⇆ F, where U is the unfolded state, T is the transition or intermediate state, and F is the fully folded state), and integrates this approach within the wormlike chain (WLC) concept. We simulated the effect of AFM tip extension on a hypothetical titin molecule comprised of 30 globular domains (Ig or FNIII) and 25% Pro-Glu-Val-Lys (PEVK) content, and analyzed the unfolding and refolding processes as a function of AFM tip extension, extension rate, and variation in PEVK content. In general, we find that the use of a three-state protein-folding kinetic-based model and the implicit inclusion of PEVK domains can accurately reproduce the experimental force- extension curves observed for both titin and tenascin proteins. Furthermore, our simulation data indicate that PEVK domains exhibit extensibility behavior, assist in the unfolding and refolding of FNIII/Ig domains in the titin molecule, and act as a force 'buffer' for the FNIII/Ig domains, particularly at low and moderate extension forces.
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