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Biochemistry. 2003 Dec 2;42(47):13856-68.

Increased rigidity of eglin c at acidic pH: evidence from NMR spin relaxation and MD simulations.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.


To gain physical insights into how proteins respond to changes in pH, the picosecond to nanosecond time scale dynamics of the small serine protease inhibitor eglin c have been studied by NMR spin relaxation experiments and MD simulations under two pH solution conditions, pH 7 and 3. Like many proteins, eglin c is destabilized by a lowering of the pH, although it retains enough stability to maintain its native conformation at pH 3. Backbone (15)N relaxation results show comparable global tumbling times (tau(m)) and model-free order parameters (S(2)) under the two pH conditions, indicating that the molecule maintains its overall molecular shape and structure at low pH, although the backbone rigidity is slightly increased (<DeltaS(pH3-pH7)(2)>/<S(2)> = 0.6%). In contrast, the side-chain methyl dynamics, as measured from (2)H relaxation experiments, show a substantial increase in rigidity at lower pH (<DeltaS(axis,pH3-pH7)(2)>/<S(axis)(2)> = 14.8%). Molecular dynamics simulations performed at these pH states produce results consistent with NMR measurements, showing that the two methods are in qualitative agreement. Although a full accounting of the physical basis for the concurrent conformational rigidification and destabilization at low pH requires further investigation, the high level of detail in the MD simulations provides a potential molecular mechanism: the breaking of the hydrogen bond between the side chains of Asp46 and Arg53, and changes in electrostatic interactions, appear to allow the binding loop to move closer to the core part of the protein, resulting in a more compact structure at low pH. This more compact structure may be responsible for the increased level of restriction of molecular motion. As these findings show, the stability of a molecular structure is distinct from its conformational rigidity, and the two can even change in opposite directions, against naïve expectation.

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