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Biochemistry. 2004 Jun 15;43(23):7273-87.

Mapping backbone dynamics in solution with site-directed spin labeling: GCN4-58 bZip free and bound to DNA.

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Jules Stein Eye Institute and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-7008, USA.


In site-directed spin labeling, a nitroxide-containing side chain is introduced at selected sites in a protein. The EPR spectrum of the labeled protein encodes information about the motion of the nitroxide on the nanosecond time scale, which has contributions from the rotary diffusion of the protein, from internal motions in the side chain, and from backbone fluctuations. In the simplest model for the motion of noninteracting (surface) side chains, the contribution from the internal motion is sequence independent, as is that from protein rotary diffusion. Hence, differences in backbone motions should be revealed by comparing the sequence-dependent motions of nitroxides at structurally homologous sites. To examine this model, nitroxide side chains were introduced, one at a time, along the GCN4-58 bZip sequence, for which NMR (15)N relaxation experiments have identified a striking gradient of backbone mobility along the DNA-binding region [Bracken et al. (1999) J. Mol. Biol. 285, 2133]. Spectral simulation techniques and a simple line width measure were used to extract dynamical parameters from the EPR spectra, and the results reveal a mobility gradient similar to that observed in NMR relaxation, indicating that side chain motions mirror backbone motions. In addition, the sequence-dependent side chain dynamics were analyzed in the DNA/protein complex, which has not been previously investigated by NMR relaxation methods. As anticipated, the backbone motions are damped in the DNA-bound state, although a gradient of motion persists with residues at the DNA-binding site being the most highly ordered, similar to those of helices on globular proteins.

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