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J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Jun 3;131(21):7313-9. doi: 10.1021/ja8084274.

Conformational changes of channelrhodopsin-2.

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Bielefeld University, Biophysical Chemistry, 33615 Bielefeld.


Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is a member of the new class of light-gated ion channels which serve as phototaxis receptors in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The protein is employed in optogenetics where neural circuits are optically stimulated under high spatiotemporal control. Despite its rapidly growing use in physiological experiments, the reaction mechanism of ChR2 is poorly understood. Here, we applied vibrational spectroscopy to trace structural changes of ChR2 after light-excitation of the retinal chromophore. FT-IR difference spectra of the various photocycle intermediates revealed that stages of the photoreaction preceding (P(1) state) and succeeding (P(4)) the conductive state of the channel (P(3)) are associated with large conformational changes of the protein backbone as indicate by strong differences in the amide I bands. Critical hydrogen-bonding changes of protonated carboxylic amino acid side chains (D156, E90) were detected and discussed with regard to the functional mechanism. We used the C128T mutant where the lifetime of P(3) is prolonged and applied FT-IR and resonance Raman spectroscopy to study the conductive P(3) state of ChR2. Finally, a mechanistic model is proposed that links the observed structural changes of ChR2 to the changes in the channel's conductance.

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