J Biol Chem. 2020 Aug 14;295(33):11410-11417. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013909. Epub 2020 Jun 11.
The health of a cell depends on accurate translation and proper protein folding, whereas misfolding can lead to aggregation and disease. The first opportunity for a protein to fold occurs during translation, when the ribosome and surrounding environment can affect the nascent chain energy landscape. However, quantifying these environmental effects is challenging because ribosomal proteins and rRNA preclude most spectroscopic measurements of protein energetics. Here, we have applied two gel-based approaches, pulse proteolysis and force-profile analysis, to probe the folding and unfolding pathways of RNase H (RNH) nascent chains stalled on the prokaryotic ribosome in vitro We found that ribosome-stalled RNH has an increased unfolding rate compared with free RNH. Because protein stability is related to the ratio of the unfolding and folding rates, this increase completely accounts for the observed change in protein stability and indicates that the folding rate is unchanged. Using arrest peptide-based force-profile analysis, we assayed the force generated during the folding of RNH on the ribosome. Surprisingly, we found that population of the RNH folding intermediate is required to generate sufficient force to release a stall induced by the SecM stalling sequence and that readthrough of SecM directly correlates with the stability of the RNH folding intermediate. Together, these results imply that the folding pathway of RNH is unchanged on the ribosome. Furthermore, our findings indicate that the ribosome promotes RNH unfolding while the nascent chain is proximal to the ribosome, which may limit the deleterious effects of RNH misfolding and assist in folding fidelity.