Biomolecular dynamics studied with IR-spectroscopy using quantum cascade lasers combined with nanosecond perturbation techniques

Alexander Popp, David Scheerer, Benjamin Heck, Karin Hauser Spectrochim. Acta A, 2017, 181, 192-199

Abstract: Early events of protein folding can be studied with fast perturbation techniques triggering non-equilibrium relaxation dynamics. A nanosecond laser-excited pH-jump or temperature-jump (T-jump) was applied to initiate helix folding or unfolding of poly-l-glutamic acid (PGA). PGA is a homopolypeptide with titratable carboxyl side-chains whose protonation degree determines the PGA conformation. A pH-jump was realized by the photochemical release of protons and induces PGA folding due to protonation of the side-chains. Otherwise, the helical conformation can be unfolded by a T-jump. We operated under conditions where PGA does not aggregate and temperature and pH are the regulatory properties of its conformation. The experiments were performed in such a manner that the folding/unfolding jump proceeded to the same PGA conformation. We quantified the increase/decrease in helicity induced by the pH-/T-jump and demonstrated that the T-jump results in a relatively small change in helical content in contrast to the pH-jump. This is caused by the strong pH-dependence of the PGA conformation. The conformational changes were detected by time-resolved single wavelength IR-spectroscopy using quantum cascade lasers (QCL). We could independently observe the kinetics for α-helix folding and unfolding in PGA by using different perturbation techniques and demonstrate the high sensitivity of time-resolved IR-spectroscopy to study protein folding mechanisms.