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Kinetics and motional dynamics of spin-labeled yeast iso-1-cytochrome c: 1. Stopped-flow electron paramagnetic resonance as a probe for protein folding/unfolding of the C-terminal helix spin-labeled at cysteine 102.


Qu KK , Vaughn JL J L , Sienkiewicz A A , Scholes CP C P , Fetrow JS J S . Biochemistry. 1997 3 11; 36(10). 2884-97


The kinetics of chemically induced folding and unfolding processes in spin-labeled yeast iso-1-cytochrome c were measured by stopped-flow electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). Stopped-flow EPR, based on a new dielectric resonator structure [Sienkiewicz, A., Qu, K., & Scholes, C. P. (1994) Rev. Sci. Instrum. 65, 68-74], gives a new temporal component to probing nanosecond molecular tumbling motions that are modulated by macromolecular processes requiring time resolution of milliseconds to seconds. The stopped-flow EPR technique presented in this work is a kinetic technique that has not been previously used with such a time resolution on spin-labeled systems, and it has the potential for application to numerous spin-labeled sites in this and other proteins. The cysteine-specific spin-label, methanethiosulfonate spin-label (MTSSL), was attached to yeast iso-1-cytochrome c at the single naturally occurring cysteine102, and the emphasis for this work was on this disulfide-attached spin-labeled prototype. This probe has the advantage of reflecting the protein tertiary fold, as shown by recent, systematic site-directed spin labeling of T4 lysozyme [Mchaourab, H. S. Lietzow, M. A., Hideg, K., & Hubbell, W. L. (1996) Biochemistry 35, 7692-7704], and protein backbone dynamics, as also shown by model peptide studies [Todd, A. P., & Millhauser, G. L. (1991) Biochemistry 30, 5515-5523]. The C-terminal cytochrome c helix where the label is attached is thought to be critical in the initial steps of protein folding and unfolding. Stopped-flow EPR resolved the monoexponential, guanidinium-induced unfolding process at pH 6.5 with an approximately 20 ms time constant; this experiment required less than 150 microL of 80 microM spin-labeled protein. We observed an approximately 50-fold decrease of this unfolding time from the 1 s range to the 20 ms time range as the guanidinium denaturant concentration was increased from 0.6 to 2.0 M. The more complex refolding kinetics of our labeled cytochrome were studied by stopped-flow EPR at pH 5.0 and 6.5. The spin probe showed a fast kinetic process compatible with the time range over which hydrogen/deuterium amide protection indicates helix formation; this process was monoexponential at pH 5.0. At pH 6.5, there was evidence of an additional slower kinetic phase resolved by stopped-flow EPR and by heme-ligation-sensitive UV-Vis that indicated a slower folding where heme misligation may be involved. Since the disulfide-attached probe has reported folding and backbone dynamics in other systems, the implication is that our kinetic experiments were directly sensing events of the C-terminal helix formation and possibly the N- and C-terminal helical interaction. The cysteine-labeled protein was also studied under equilibrium conditions to characterize probe mobility and the effect of the probe on protein thermodynamics. The difference in spin probe mobility between folded and denatured protein was marked, and in the folded protein, the motion of the probe was anisotropically restricted. The motion of the attached nitroxide in the folded protein appears to be restricted about the carbon and sulfur bonds which tether it to the cysteine. The original point of cysteine sulfur attachment is approximately 11 A from the heme iron within the C-terminal helix near its interface with the N-terminal helix, but the low-temperature EPR spin probe line width showed that the probe lies more distant (> 15 A) from the heme iron. By all physical evidence, the protein labeled at cysteine102 folded, but the spin probe in this prototype system perturbed packing which lowered the thermal melting temperature, the free energy of folding, the guanidinium concentration at the midpoint of the unfolding transition, the m parameter of the denaturant, and the helical CD signature. This study prepares the way for study of protein folding/unfolding kinetics using EPR spectroscopy of spin-labels placed at specific cysteine-mutated sites within