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Biochem Soc Trans. 2013 Dec;41(6):1343-54. doi: 10.1042/BST20130232.

Seeing the invisible by paramagnetic and diamagnetic NMR.

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*Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0520, U.S.A.


Sparsely populated transient states of proteins and their complexes play an important role in many biological processes including protein-protein and protein-DNA recognition, allostery, conformational selection, induced fit and self-assembly. These states are difficult to study as their low population and transient nature makes them effectively invisible to conventional structural and biophysical techniques. In the present article, I summarize recent NMR developments in our laboratory, including the use of paramagnetic relaxation enhancement, lifetime line broadening and dark-state exchange saturation transfer spectroscopy, that have permitted such sparsely populated states to be detected, characterized and, in some instances, visualized. I illustrate the application of these methods to the elucidation of mechanisms whereby transcription factors locate their specific target sites within an overwhelming sea of non-specific DNA, to the characterization of encounter complexes in protein-protein recognition, to large-scale interdomain motions involved in ligand binding, and to the interaction of monomeric amyloid β-peptide with the surface of amyloid protofibrils and the internal cavity surface of the chaperonin GroEL.

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