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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Apr;1818(4):1049-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2011.08.019. Epub 2011 Aug 22.

Thermodynamic stability of bacteriorhodopsin mutants measured relative to the bacterioopsin unfolded state.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UCLA DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics, Molecular Biology Insitute, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1570, USA.


The stability of bacteriorhodopsin (bR) has often been assessed using SDS unfolding assays that monitor the transition of folded bR (bR(f)) to unfolded (bR(u)). While many criteria suggest that the unfolding curves reflect thermodynamic stability, slow retinal (RET) hydrolysis during refolding makes it impossible to perform the most rigorous test for equilibrium, i.e., superimposable unfolding and refolding curves. Here we made a new equilibrium test by asking whether the refolding rate in the transition zone is faster than RET hydrolysis. We find that under conditions we have used previously, refolding is in fact slower than hydrolysis, strongly suggesting that equilibrium is not achieved. Instead, the apparent free energy values reported previously are dominated by unfolding rates. To assess how different the true equilibrium values are, we employed an alternative method by measuring the transition of bR(f) to unfolded bacterioopsin (bO(u)), the RET-free form of unfolded protein. The bR(f)-to-bO(u) transition is fully reversible, particular when we add excess RET. We compared the difference in unfolding free energies for 13 bR mutants measured by both assays. For 12 of the 13 mutants with a wide range of stabilities, the results are essentially the same within experimental error. The congruence of the results is fortuitous and suggests the energetic effects of most mutations may be focused on the folded state. The bR(f)-to-bO(u) reaction is inconvenient because many days are required to reach equilibrium, but it is the preferable measure of thermodynamic stability. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Protein Folding in Membranes.

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