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J Mol Biol. 2006 Jan 27;355(4):640-50. Epub 2005 Nov 17.

Characterizing molecular interactions in different bacteriorhodopsin assemblies by single-molecule force spectroscopy.

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Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, 01307 Dresden, Germany.


Using single-molecule force spectroscopy we characterized inter- and intramolecular interactions stabilizing structural segments of individual bacteriorhodopsin (BR) molecules assembled into trimers and dimers, and monomers. While the assembly of BR did not vary the location of these structural segments, their intrinsic stability could change up to 70% increasing from monomer to dimer to trimer. Since each stable structural segment established one unfolding barrier, we conclude that the locations of unfolding barriers were determined by intramolecular interactions but that their strengths were strongly influenced by intermolecular interactions. Subtracting the unfolding forces of the BR trimer from that of monomer allowed us to calculate the contribution of inter- and intramolecular interactions to the membrane protein stabilization. Statistical analyses showed that the unfolding pathways of differently assembled BR molecules did not differ in their appearance but in their population. This suggests that in our experiments the membrane protein assembly does not necessarily change the location of unfolding barriers within the protein, but certainly their strengths, and thus alters the probability of a protein to choose certain unfolding pathways.

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