Eukaryotic cells have a continuous transit of macromolecules between the cytoplasm and the nucleus. Several carrier proteins are involved in this transport. One of them is importin α, which must form a complex with importin β to accomplish its function, by domain-swapping its 60-residue-long N terminus. There are several human isoforms of importin α; among them, importin α3 has a particularly high flexibility.Methods
We studied the conformational stability of intact importin α3 (Impα3) and its truncated form, where the 64-residue-long, N-terminal importin-β-binding domain (IBB) has been removed (ΔImpα3), in a wide pH range, with several spectroscopic, biophysical, biochemical methods and with molecular dynamics (MD).Results
Both species acquired native-like structure between pH 7 and 10.0, where Impα3 was a dimer (with an apparent self-association constant of ~10 μM) and ΔImpα3 had a higher tendency to self-associate than the intact species. The acquisition of secondary, tertiary and quaternary structure, and the burial of hydrophobic patches, occurred concomitantly. Both proteins unfolded irreversibly at physiological pH, by using either temperature or chemical denaturants, through several partially folded intermediates. The MD simulations support the presence of these intermediates.Conclusions
The thermal stability of Impα3 at physiological pH was very low, but was higher than that of ΔImpα3. Both proteins were stable in a narrow pH range, and they unfolded at physiological pH populating several intermediate species.