Journal Of Biomolecular Structure And Dynamics
Botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT), the most toxic substance known to mankind, is the first example of the fully active molten globule state. To understand its folding mechanism, we performed urea denaturation experiments and theoretical modeling using BoNT serotype A (BoNT/A). We found that the extent of BoNT/A denaturation from the native state (N) shows a nonmonotonic dependence on urea concentration indicating a unique multistep denaturation process, N I1 [Formula: see text] I2 [Formula: see text] U, with two intermediate states I1 and I2. BoNT/A loses almost all its secondary structure in 3.75M urea (I1), yet it displays a native-like secondary structure in 5M urea (I2). This agrees with the results of theoretical modeling, which helped to determine the molecular basis of unique behavior of BoNT/A in solution. Except for I2, all the states revert back to full enzymatic activity for SNAP-25 including the unfolded state U stable in 7M urea. Our results stress the importance of structural flexibility in the toxin's mechanism of survival and action, an unmatched evolutionary trait from billion-year-old bacteria, which also correlates with the long-lasting enzymatic activity of BoNT inside neuronal cells. BoNT/A provides a rich model to explore protein folding in relation to functional activity.