Force-clamp spectroscopy of single protein monomers reveals the individual unfolding and folding pathways of I27 and ubiquitin
Single protein force experiments have relied on a molecular fingerprint based on tethering multiple single protein domains in a polyprotein chain. However, correlations between these domains remain an issue in interpreting force spectroscopy data, particularly during protein folding. Here we first show that force-clamp spectroscopy is a sensitive technique that provides a molecular fingerprint based on the unfolding step size of four single monomer proteins. We then measure the force-dependent unfolding rate kinetics of ubiquitin and I27 monomers and find a good agreement with the data obtained for the respective polyproteins over a wide range of forces, in support of the Markovian hypothesis. Moreover, with a large statistical ensemble at a single force, we show that ubiquitin monomers also exhibit a broad distribution of unfolding times as a signature of disorder in the folded protein landscape. Furthermore, we readily capture the folding trajectories of monomers that exhibit the same stages in folding observed for polyproteins, thus eliminating the possibility of entropic masking by other unfolded modules in the chain or domain-domain interactions. On average, the time to reach the I27 folded length increases with increasing quenching force at a rate similar to the polyproteins. Force-clamp spectroscopy at the single monomer level reproduces the kinetics of unfolding and refolding measured using polyproteins, which proves that there is no mechanical effect of tethering proteins to one another in the case of ubiquitin and I27.