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J Chem Phys. 2015 Dec 14;143(22):225102. doi: 10.1063/1.4936588.

Electronic coupling through natural amino acids.

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National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Bioenergy Center, 15013 Denver West Pkwy, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA.


Myriad scientific domains concern themselves with biological electron transfer (ET) events that span across vast scales of rate and efficiency through a remarkably fine-tuned integration of amino acid (AA) sequences, electronic structure, dynamics, and environment interactions. Within this intricate scheme, many questions persist as to how proteins modulate electron-tunneling properties. To help elucidate these principles, we develop a model set of peptides representing the common α-helix and β-strand motifs including all natural AAs within implicit protein-environment solvation. Using an effective Hamiltonian strategy with density functional theory, we characterize the electronic coupling through these peptides, furthermore considering side-chain dynamics. For both motifs, predictions consistently show that backbone-mediated electronic coupling is distinctly sensitive to AA type (aliphatic, polar, aromatic, negatively charged and positively charged), and to side-chain orientation. The unique properties of these residues may be employed to design activated, deactivated, or switch-like superexchange pathways. Electronic structure calculations and Green's function analyses indicate that localized shifts in the electron density along the peptide play a role in modulating these pathways, and further substantiate the experimentally observed behavior of proline residues as superbridges. The distinct sensitivities of tunneling pathways to sequence and conformation revealed in this electronic coupling database help improve our fundamental understanding of the broad diversity of ET reactivity and provide guiding principles for peptide design.

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