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Title: Electrical unfolding of cytochrome c during translocation through a nanopore constriction
Many small proteins move across cellular compartments through narrow pores. In order to thread a protein through a constriction, free energy must be overcome to either deform or completely unfold the protein. In principle, the diameter of the pore, along with the effective driving force for unfolding the protein, as well as its barrier to translocation, should be critical factors that govern whether the process proceeds via squeezing, unfolding/threading, or both. To probe this for a well-established protein system, we studied the electric-field–driven translocation behavior of cytochrome c (cyt c ) through ultrathin silicon nitride (SiN x ) solid-state nanopores of diameters ranging from 1.5 to 5.5 nm. For a 2.5-nm-diameter pore, we find that, in a threshold electric-field regime of ∼30 to 100 MV/m, cyt c is able to squeeze through the pore. As electric fields inside the pore are increased, the unfolded state of cyt c is thermodynamically stabilized, facilitating its translocation. In contrast, for 1.5- and 2.0-nm-diameter pores, translocation occurs only by threading of the fully unfolded protein after it transitions through a higher energy unfolding intermediate state at the mouth of the pore. The relative energies between the metastable, intermediate, and unfolded protein states are extracted more » using a simple thermodynamic model that is dictated by the relatively slow (∼ms) protein translocation times for passing through the nanopore. These experiments map the various modes of protein translocation through a constriction, which opens avenues for exploring protein folding structures, internal contacts, and electric-field–induced deformability. « less
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Award ID(s):
1764221 1827346
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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