This proposal is directed toward a better understanding of the relationships between protein structure, stability and dynamics. In energy landscape terms we propose to investigate the landscape near its energy minimum, the nature of the energy barriers leading from the minimum to unfolded states, and the possible role of structured states seen under highly denaturing conditions in generating increased thermal stability. The proposal consists of 3 specific aims: (1) We propose to use modern nuclear magnetic resonance methods and especially relaxation dispersion techniques to detect and define minority conformations of proteins. These excited states can often be critical intermediates in ligand binding, folding-unfolding pathways and other events where structural change is important. Experiments are proposed to examine the role of core packing defects, low pH and denaturants on the nature and distribution of minority equilibrium species. (2) Develop the methods needed to examine the responses of single protein molecules to the application of mechanical forces designed to unfold the protein. This approach will attach a single protein molecule via two double-stranded DNA """"""""handles"""""""" to specific sites on two different beads. Force is exerted on the protein by pulling the beads apart using laser tweezers. This approach offers the ability to study protein folding by allowing direct measurement of the force needed to unfold a protein by pulling it apart from specific points. This will allow us to obtain a new perspective of the energy surface along a specific reaction coordinate corresponding to the distance between the points of attachment. (3) Understand the structural and the thermodynamic source of the thermal stability of proteins from hyperthermophilic organisms. Using the CheY protein from Thermotoga maritima as a model, we have found that its thermal stability is largely due to its unusually low change in heat capacity upon folding. This unusual heat capacity change seems to be the result of a highly structured unfolded state and experiments are proposed to investigate the structural bases of the heat capacity change and nature of the unfolded state.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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Biophysical Chemistry Study Section (BBCB)
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Li, Jerry
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University of Oregon
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Barnes, Ryan; Sun, Sheng; Fichou, Yann et al. (2017) Spatially Heterogeneous Surface Water Diffusivity around Structured Protein Surfaces at Equilibrium. J Am Chem Soc 139:17890-17901
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