Correlated dynamics of consecutive residues reveal transient and cooperative unfolding of secondary structure in proteins

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Nuclear spin relaxation is a powerful method for studying molecular dynamics at atomic resolution. Recent methods development in biomolecular NMR spectroscopy has enabled detailed investigations of molecular dynamics that are critical for biological function, with prominent examples addressing allostery, enzyme catalysis, and protein folding. Dynamic processes with similar correlation times are often detected in multiple locations of the molecule, raising the question of whether the underlying motions are correlated (corresponding to concerted fluctuations involving many atoms distributed across extended regions of the molecule) or uncorrelated (corresponding to independent fluctuations involving few atoms in localized regions). Here, we have used C-13(alpha)(i - 1)/C-13(alpha)(i) differential multiple-quantum spin relaxation to provide direct evidence for correlated dynamics of consecutive amino acid residues in the protein sequence. By monitoring overlapping pairs of residues (i - 1 and i, i and i + 1, etc.), we identified correlated motions that extend through continuous segments of the sequence. We detected significant correlated conformational transitions in the native state of the E140Q mutant of the calmodulin C-terminal domain. Previous work has shown that this domain exchanges between two major conformational states that resemble the functionally relevant open and closed states of the WT protein, with a mean correlation time of approximate to 20 mu s. The present results reveal that an entire alpha-helix undergoes partial unraveling in a transient and cooperative manner.


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  • Physical Chemistry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16984-16989
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number47
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch