Istituto di Biofisica     
Cioni P., Strambini G. B. Pressure Effects on the Structure of Oligomeric Proteins Prior to Subunit Dissociation. In: Journal of Molecular Biology, vol. 263 (5) pp. 789 - 799. Elsevier, 1996.
In studies of pressure-induced subunit dissociation of protein aggregates, now widely used to evaluate the association free energy, entropy and enthalpy of very stable complexes, it is assumed that high pressure does not influence their structure/thermodynamic parameters and that some peculiarities of these equilibria, such as the decrease in subunit affinity at larger degrees of dissociation (α) and hysteresis in α/pressure diagrams are imputable to the slow conformational drift of isolated subunits. To test this premise, the conformation of dimeric alcohol dehydrogenase from horse liver and alkaline phosphatase fromEscherichia coliwas monitored as a function of pressure (up to 3 kbar) and temperature (0 to 50C) by means of the intrinsic Trp fluorescence and phosphorescence emission and binding of the 1-anilinonaphatalene-8-sulphonic acid (ANS) fluorophore. The results show a distinct influence of high pressure on the native dimers whose changes in conformation may, depending on whether or not these alterations are promptly reversed, be distinguished in elastic and inelastic changes. Elastic changes are ubiquitous and refer to pronounced modulations of the phosphorescence lifetime which is a monitor of the internal flexibility of the macromolecules. They attest to a tightening of the globular structure in the lower pressure range (below 1.5 kbar) as opposed to an increased fluidity in the higher range. The trend is similar between the two proteins and the tightening/loosening effect is fully consistent with the role that internal cavities and hydration of polypeptide is expected to play in determining the compressibility of these biopolymers. Inelastic perturbations reveal a more profound loosening of the globular fold and were observed only with alcohol dehydrogenase under conditions (low temperature (t< 10C) and high pressure (p> 2.5 kbar)) that favour protein hydration. They involve slow consecutive reactions that produce drastic reductions in phosphorescence lifetime, spectral red shifts, quenching of fluorescence and phosphorescence emission and modulation of ANS binding. Judging from the full protection afforded by glycerol as cosolvent, or the remarkable enhancement caused by modest concentrations of urea, the driving force of these perturbations appears to be pressure-induced hydration of the protein. Inelastic conformational changes are accompanied by a slow and often incomplete recovery of enzymatic activity. The characteristic times of these processes, their pressure dependence and the slow, thermally activated, reversibility are discussed in the light of hysteresis phenomena and changes of subunit affinity in dissociation equilibria.
DOI: 10.1006/jmbi.1996.0616
Subject High pressure
Tryptophan phosphorescence
Protein flexibility
Conformational drift
Subunit dissociation

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