Refolding kinetics of two homologous proteins, lysozyme and a-lactalbumin, were studied by following the time-dependent changes in the circular dichroism spectra in the aromatic and the peptide regions. The refolding was initiated by 20-fold dilution of the protein solutions originally unfolded at 6 M guanidine hydrochloride, at pH 1.5 for lysozyme and pH 7.0 for a-lactalbumin at 4.5 °C. In the aromatic region, almost full changes in ellipticity that were expected from the equilibrium differences in the spectra between the native and unfolded proteins were observed kinetically. The major fast phase of lysozyme folding has a decay time of 15 s. The decay time of a-lactalbumin depends on the presence or absence of bound Ca2+: 10 s for the holoprotein and 100 s for the apoprotein. In the peptide region, however, most of the ellipticity changes of the two proteins occur within the dead time (<3 s) of the present measurements. This demonstrates existence of an early folding intermediate which is still unfolded when measured by the aromatic bands but has folded secondary structure as measured by the peptide bands. Extrapolation of the ellipticity changes to zero time at various wavelengths gives a spectrum of the folding intermediate. Curve fitting of the peptide spectra to estimate the secondary structure fractions has shown that the two proteins assume a similar structure at an early stage of folding and that the intermediate has a structure similar to that of partially unfolded species produced by heat and, for a-lactalbumin, also by acid and a moderate concentration of guanidine hydrochloride. Thus, in spite of their known difference in equilibrium unfolding behavior and the difference of their biological functions, folding of the two proteins occurs via a similar structural intermediate. The thermal transition of the secondary structure in the equilibrium intermediate of a-lactalbumin was also investigated. The relevance of the present results to the equilibrium unfolding behavior of the proteins is described.
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