Protein aggregation is frequently observed as a major side-reaction of protein folding. We present quantitative models explaining the formation of aggregates during protein folding in vitro and in vivo on the basis of a kinetic competition between correct folding and aggregation reactions. Both models are in good agreement with experimental data. The model implies that, in vitro, the yield of native protein obtained upon refolding is determined by the rates of the competing first order folding and second order aggregation reactions. Therefore, at high protein concentrations aggregation dominates over folding and leads to the formation of insoluble protein. For in vivo protein synthesis, the model shows that the yield of native protein is only dependent on the rate of folding, on the rate of aggregation and on the rate of protein synthesis. In the cell, several mechanisms, including “folding helpers” seem to have evolved, which influence these processes and thereby prevent unproductive side reactions.
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