High-Pressure EPR Reveals Conformational Equilibria and Volumetric Properties of Spin-Labeled Proteins
Identifying equilibrium conformational exchange and characterizing conformational substates is essential for elucidating mechanisms of function in proteins. Site-directed spin labeling has previously been employed to detect conformational changes triggered by some event, but verifying conformational exchange at equilibrium is more challenging. Conformational exchange (microsecond–millisecond) is slow on the EPR time scale, and this proves to be an advantage in directly revealing the presence of multiple substates as distinguishable components in the EPR spectrum, allowing the direct determination of equilibrium constants and free energy differences. However, rotameric exchange of the spin label side chain can also give rise to multiple components in the EPR spectrum. Using spin-labeled mutants of T4 lysozyme, it is shown that high-pressure EPR can be used to: (i) demonstrate equilibrium between spectrally resolved states, (ii) aid in distinguishing conformational from rotameric exchange as the origin of the resolved states, and (iii) determine the relative partial molar volume (ΔVo) and isothermal compressibility (ΔβT ) of conformational substates in two-component equilibria from the pressure dependence of the equilibrium constant. These volumetric properties provide insight into the structure of the substates. Finally, the pressure dependence of internal side-chain motion is interpreted in terms of volume fluctuations on the nanosecond time scale, the magnitude of which may reflect local backbone flexibility.