Ligation-state hydrogen exchange: coupled binding and folding equilibria in ribonuclease P protein.
Bacillus subtilis ribonuclease P protein (P protein) is predominantly unfolded (D) at physiological pH and low ionic strength; however, small molecule anionic ligands (e.g., sulfate) directly bind to and stabilize the folded state (NL2). Because the D + 2L <--> NL2 transition is experimentally two-state, high-energy states such as the singly bound, folded species (NL) and the unliganded folded species (N) are generally difficult to detect at equilibrium. To study the conformational properties of these ensembles, NMR-detected amide hydrogen exchange (HX) rates of P protein were measured at four sulfate (i.e., ligand) concentrations, a method we denote "ligation-state hydrogen exchange". The ligand concentration dependence of the HX rate of 47 residues was fit to a model with four possible HX pathways, corresponding to the local and/or global opening reactions from NL2 and NL, the local opening of N, and the global opening of N to D. Data analysis permits the calculation of the residue-specific free energy of opening from each ensemble as well as the fractional amide HX flux through each pathway. Results indicate that the predominant route of HX is through the NL and N states, which represent only 0.45% and 0.0005% of the total protein population in 20 mM sodium sulfate, respectively. Despite the low population of N, a region of protected amides was identified. Therefore, exchange through unliganded forms must be accounted for prior to the interpretation of HX-based protein-interaction studies. We offer a simple test to determine if HX occurs through the liganded or unliganded form.
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