The famous Kramers rate theory for diffusion-controlled reactions has been extended in numerous ways and successfully applied to many types of reactions. Its application to protein folding reactions has been of particular interest in recent years, as many researchers have performed experiments and simulations to test whether folding reactions are diffusion- controlled, whether the solvent is the source of the reaction friction, and whether the friction-dependence of folding rates generally can provide insight into folding dynamics. These experiments involve many practical difficulties, however. They have also produced some unexpected results. Here we briefly review the Kramers theory for reactions in the presence of strong friction and summarize some of the subtle problems that arise in the application of the theory to protein folding. We discuss how the results of these experiments ultimately point to a significant role for internal friction in protein folding dynamics. Studies of friction in protein folding, far from revealing any weakness in Kramers theory, may actually lead to new approaches for probing diffusional dynamics and energy landscapes in protein folding.
Keywords: Protein folding, Kramers theory, Viscosity, Dynamics, Friction, Energy Landscape
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