Single-molecule Force Spectroscopy Reveals the Calcium Dependence of the Alternative Conformations in the Native State of a βγ-Crystallin Protein.
Although multidomain proteins predominate the proteome of all organisms and are expected to display complex folding behaviors and significantly greater structural dynamics as compared with single-domain proteins, their conformational heterogeneity and its impact on their interaction with ligands are poorly understood due to a lack of experimental techniques. The multidomain calcium-binding βγ-crystallin proteins are particularly important because their deterioration and misfolding/aggregation are associated with melanoma tumors and cataracts. Here we investigate the mechanical stability and conformational dynamics of a model calcium-binding βγ-crystallin protein, Protein S, and elaborate on its interactions with calcium. We ask whether domain interactions and calcium binding affect Protein S folding and potential structural heterogeneity. Our results from single-molecule force spectroscopy show that the N-terminal (but not the C-terminal) domain is in equilibrium with an alternative conformation in the absence of Ca(2+), which is mechanically stable in contrast to other proteins that were observed to sample a molten globule under similar conditions. Mutagenesis experiments and computer simulations reveal that the alternative conformation of the N-terminal domain is caused by structural instability produced by the high charge density of a calcium binding site. We find that this alternative conformation in the N-terminal domain is diminished in the presence of calcium and can also be partially eliminated with a hitherto unrecognized compensatory mechanism that uses the interaction of the C-terminal domain to neutralize the electronegative site. We find that up to 1% of all identified multidomain calcium-binding proteins contain a similarly highly charged site and therefore may exploit a similar compensatory mechanism to prevent structural instability in the absence of ligand.
Scholl, ZN; Li, Q; Yang, W; Marszalek, PE
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