Motlagh, Hesam N.; Toptygin, Dmitri; Kaiser, Christian M.; Hilser, Vincent J.
Single-Molecule Chemo-Mechanical Spectroscopy Provides Structural Identity of Folding Intermediates
BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL, 110:1280-1290, MAR 29 2016

Single-molecule force spectroscopy has emerged as a powerful tool for studying the folding of biological macromolecules. Mechanical manipulation has revealed a wealth of mechanistic information on transient and intermediate states. To date, the majority of state assignment of intermediates has relied on empirical demarcation. However, performing such experiments in the presence of different osmolytes provides an alternative approach that reports on the structural properties of intermediates. Here, we analyze the folding and unfolding of T4 lysozyme with optical tweezers under a chemo-mechanical perturbation by adding osmolytes. We find that two unrelated protective osmolytes, sorbitol and trimethylamine-n-oxide, function by marginally decelerating unfolding rates and specifically modulating early events in the folding process, stabilizing formation of an on-pathway intermediate. The chemo-mechanical perturbation provides access to two independent metrics of the relevant states during folding trajectories, the contour length, and the solvent-accessible surface area. We demonstrate that the dependence of the population of the intermediate in different osmolytes, in conjunction with its measured contour length, provides the ability to discriminate between potential structural models of intermediate states. Our study represents a general strategy that may be employed in the structural modeling of equilibrium intermediate states observed in single-molecule experiments.


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