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Protein Sci. 2003 Jan;12(1):1-16.

Weak alignment offers new NMR opportunities to study protein structure and dynamics.

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Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0520, USA.


Protein solution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) can be conducted in a slightly anisotropic environment, where the orientational distribution of the proteins is no longer random. In such an environment, the large one-bond internuclear dipolar interactions no longer average to zero and report on the average orientation of the corresponding vectors relative to the magnetic field. The desired very weak ordering, on the order of 10(-3), can be induced conveniently by the use of aqueous nematic liquid crystalline suspensions or by anisotropically compressed hydrogels. The resulting residual dipolar interactions are scaled down by three orders of magnitude relative to their static values, but nevertheless can be measured at high accuracy. They are very precise reporters on the average orientation of bonds relative to the molecular alignment frame, and they can be used in a variety of ways to enrich our understanding of protein structure and function. Applications to date have focused primarily on validation of structures, determined by NMR, X-ray crystallography, or homology modeling, and on refinement of structures determined by conventional NMR approaches. Although de novo structure determination on the basis of dipolar couplings suffers from a severe multiple minimum problem, related to the degeneracy of dipolar coupling relative to inversion of the internuclear vector, a number of approaches can address this problem and potentially can accelerate the NMR structure determination process considerably. In favorable cases, where large numbers of dipolar couplings can be measured, inconsistency between measured values can report on internal motions.

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