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J Am Chem Soc. 2012 May 16;134(19):8148-61. doi: 10.1021/ja3001419. Epub 2012 May 3.

Studying "invisible" excited protein states in slow exchange with a major state conformation.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, The University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A8.


Ever since its initial development, solution NMR spectroscopy has been used as a tool to study conformational exchange. Although many systems are amenable to relaxation dispersion approaches, cases involving highly skewed populations in slow chemical exchange have, in general, remained recalcitrant to study. Here an experiment to detect and characterize "invisible" excited protein states in slow exchange with a visible ground-state conformation (excited-state lifetimes ranging from ∼5 to 50 ms) is presented. This method, which is an adaptation of the chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) magnetic resonance imaging experiment, involves irradiating various regions of the spectrum with a weak B(1) field while monitoring the effect on the visible major-state peaks. The variation in major-state peak intensities as a function of frequency offset and B(1) field strength is quantified to obtain the minor-state population, its lifetime, and excited-state chemical shifts and line widths. The methodology was validated with (15)N CEST experiments recorded on an SH3 domain-ligand exchanging system and subsequently used to study the folding transition of the A39G FF domain, where the invisible unfolded state has a lifetime of ∼20 ms. Far more accurate exchange parameters and chemical shifts were obtained than via analysis of Carr-Purcell-Meiboom-Gill relaxation dispersion data.

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