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Title: Mapping the conformational landscape of a dynamic enzyme by multitemperature and XFEL crystallography
Proteins are the workhorses of the cell. The shape that a protein molecule adopts enables it to carry out its role. However, a protein’s shape, or 'conformation', is not static. Instead, a protein can shift between different conformations. This is particularly true for enzymes – the proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. The region of an enzyme where the chemical reaction happens, known as the active site, often has to change its conformation to allow catalysis to proceed. Changes in temperature can also make a protein shift between alternative conformations. Understanding how a protein shifts between conformations gives insight into how it works. A common method for studying protein conformation is X-ray crystallography. This technique uses a beam of X-rays to figure out where the atoms of the protein are inside a crystal made of millions of copies of that protein. At room temperature or biological temperature, X-rays can rapidly damage the protein. Because of this, most crystal structures are determined at very low temperatures to minimize damage. But cooling to low temperatures changes the conformations that the protein adopts, and usually causes fewer conformations to be present. Keedy, Kenner, Warkentin, Woldeyes et al. have used X-ray crystallography from a very low temperature (-173°C or 100 K) to above room temperature (up to 27°C or 300 K) to explore the alternative conformations of an enzyme called cyclophilin A. These alternative conformations include those that have previously been linked to this enzyme’s activity. Starting at a low temperature, parts of the enzyme were seen to shift from having a single conformation to many conformations above a threshold temperature. Unexpectedly, different parts of the enzyme have different threshold temperatures, suggesting that there isn’t a single transition across the whole protein. Instead, it appears the way a protein’s conformation changes in response to temperature is more complex than was previously realized. This result suggests that conformations in different parts of a protein are coupled to each other in complex ways. Keedy, Kenner, Warkentin, Woldeyes et al. then performed X-ray crystallography at room temperature using an X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL). This technique can capture the protein’s structure before radiation damage occurs, and confirmed that the alternative conformations observed were not affected by radiation damage. The combination of X-ray crystallography at multiple temperatures, new analysis methods for identifying and measuring alternative conformations, and XFEL crystallography should help future studies to characterize conformational changes in other proteins.  more » « less
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Medium: X
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National Science Foundation
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    Graphical abstract

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