Biochemistry Publications


Time-Dependent Changes in Side-Chain Solvent Accessibility during Cytochrome c Folding Probed by Pulsed Oxidative Labeling and Mass Spectrometry

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Journal of Molecular Biology





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The current work employs a novel approach for characterizing structural changes during the refolding of acid-denatured cytochrome c (cyt c). At various time points (ranging from 10 ms to 5 min) after a pH jump from 2 to 7, the protein is exposed to a microsecond hydroxyl radical (.OH) pulse that induces oxidative labeling of solvent-exposed side chains. Most of the covalent modifications appear as +16-Da adducts that are readily detectable by mass spectrometry. The overall extent of labeling decreases as folding proceeds, reflecting dramatic changes in the accessibility of numerous residues. Peptide mapping and tandem mass spectrometry reveal that the side chains of C14, C17, H33, F46, Y48, W59, M65, Y67, Y74, M80, I81, and Y97 are among the dominant sites of oxidation. Temporal changes in the accessibility of these residues are consistent with docking of the N- and C-terminal helices as early as 10 ms. However, structural reorganization at the helix interface takes place up to at least 1 s. Initial misligation of the heme iron by H33 leads to distal crowding, giving rise to low solvent accessibility of the displaced (native) M80 ligand and the adjacent I81. W59 retains a surprisingly high level of accessibility long into the folding process, indicating the presence of packing defects in the hydrophobically collapsed core. Overall, the results of this work are consistent with previous hydrogen/deuterium exchange studies that proposed a foldon-mediated mechanism. The structural data obtained by .OH labeling monitor the packing and burial of side chains, whereas hydrogen/deuterium exchange primarily monitors the formation of secondary structure elements. Hence, the two approaches yield complementary information. Considering the very short time scale of pulsed oxidative labeling, an extension of the approach used here to sub-millisecond folding studies should be feasible.