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J Chem Phys. 2011 Feb 14;134(6):065102. doi: 10.1063/1.3533366.

Biomolecules under mechanical stress: a simple mechanism of complex behavior.

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Department of Physics and Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


The unfolding of a biomolecule by stretching force is commonly treated theoretically as one-dimensional dynamics along the reaction coordinate coincident with the direction of pulling. Here we explore a situation, particularly relevant to complex biomolecules, when the pulling direction alone is not an adequate reaction coordinate for the unfolding or rupture process. We show that in this case the system can respond to pulling force in unusual ways. Our theory points out a remarkably simple, but largely overlooked, mechanism of the complex responses of biomolecules to force. The mechanism originates from the basic property of the transition state to change its structure under applied force. A relationship is established between a key experimental observable--force-dependent lifetime--and the microscopic properties of the biomolecule in the form of an analytical solution to the problem of a force-induced molecular transition in two dimensions. The theory is applicable to biological contexts ranging from protein folding to ligand-receptor interactions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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