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Biochemistry. 2005 Jun 7;44(22):7976-87.

Trifluoroethanol-induced unfolding of concanavalin A: equilibrium and time-resolved optical spectroscopic studies.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Chicago, 845 West Taylor Street (m/c 111), Chicago, Illinois 60607-7061, USA.


Conformational structure changes in concanavalin A (Con A), a legume lectin protein which is composed of 18 beta-strands, induced by dissolving in 50% trifluoroethanol (TFE) were monitored at neutral and low pH by far- and near-UV circular dichroism (CD), fluorescence, and FTIR under equilibrium conditions. Stopped-flow studies using CD and fluorescence as well as FTIR, at low and high protein concentration, respectively, were carried out to follow the time-dependent conformation changes occurring after rapid mixing of the protein with TFE. Equilibrium CD results show that, upon addition of TFE, low-concentration Con A transforms to a highly alpha-helical conformation at both neutral and low pH. However, at neutral pH under high protein concentration conditions, aggregation and precipitation are eventually detected with FTIR, indicating that a final beta-structure is attained. Stopped-flow fluorescence shows the existence of an unfolding intermediate for pH 2.0 and 4.5, which could be related to the dissociation of the dimer form. However, evidence for an intermediate is not obtained at pH 6.7, where the native protein is a tetramer. Stopped-flow FTIR is consistent with these results, indicating formation of a H(+)-stabilized intermediate alpha-helical conformation before aggregation develops. Con A in TFE provides an example of an intermediate with non-native secondary structure appearing on the unfolding pathway. On the basis of the kinetic results obtained, an unfolding mechanism is proposed and some stable intermediates are identified. In turn, the slow structural change of Con A induced by TFE provides a useful model system for study of protein unfolding due to its accessibility with several spectroscopic and kinetic tools.

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