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J Mol Biol. 1999 Jul 2;290(1):1-7.

Raman optical activity of filamentous bacteriophages: hydration of alpha-helices.

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  • 1Chemistry Department, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.


We report the first observations of vibrational Raman optical activity (ROA) on intact viruses. Specifically, ROA spectra of the filamentous bacteriophages Pf1, M13 and IKe in aqueous solution were measured in the range approximately 600-1800 cm-1. On account of its ability to probe directly the chiral elements of biomolecular structure, ROA has provided a new perspective on the solution structures of these well-studied systems. The ROA spectra of all three are dominated by signatures of helical elements in the major coat proteins, as expected from pre-existing data. The helical elements generate strong sharp positive ROA bands at approximately 1300 and 1342 cm-1in H2O solution, but in2H2O solution the approximately 1342 cm-1bands disappear completely. The spectra are similar to those of polypeptides under conditions that produce alpha-helical conformations. Our present results, together with results from other studies, suggest that the positive approximately 1342 cm-1ROA bands are generated by a highly hydrated form of alpha-helix, and that the positive approximately 1300 cm-1bands originate in alpha-helix in a more hydrophobic environment. The presence of significant amounts of highly hydrated helical sequences accords with the known flexibility of these viruses. Differences of spectral detail for Pf1, M13 and IKe demonstrate that ROA is sensitive to subtle variations of conformation and hydration within the major coat proteins, with M13 and IKe possibly containing more non-helical structure than Pf1. The ROA spectra of Pf1 at temperatures above and below that at which a structural transition is known to occur (approximately 10 degrees C) reveal little difference in the protein conformation between the two forms, but there are indications of changes in DNA structure.

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