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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Mar 1;91(5):1667-71.

A collision gradient method to determine the immersion depth of nitroxides in lipid bilayers: application to spin-labeled mutants of bacteriorhodopsin.

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Jules Stein Eye Institute, Los Angeles, CA.


Ten mutants of bacteriorhodopsin, each containing a single cysteine residue regularly spaced along helix D and facing the lipid bilayer, were derivatized with a nitroxide spin label. Collision rates of the nitroxide with apolar oxygen increased with distance from the membrane/solution interface. Collision rates with polar metal ion complexes decreased over the same distance. Although the collision rates depend on steric constraints imposed by the local protein structure and on the depth in the membrane, the ratio of the collision rate of oxygen to those of a polar metal ion complex is independent of structural features of the protein. The logarithm of the ratio is a linear function of depth within the membrane. Calibration of this ratio parameter with spin-labeled phospholipids allows localization of the individual nitroxides, and hence the bacteriorhodopsin molecule, relative to the plane of the phosphate groups of the bilayer. The spacing between residues is consistent with the pitch of an alpha-helix. These results provide a general strategy for determining the immersion depth of nitroxides in bilayers.

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