Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Biophysicists manipulate 'zipper,' reveal protein folding dynamics

Single-molecule, real-time measurements of a key biological process

Biophysicists at TUM, the Technische Universitaet Muenchen, have published the results of single-molecule experiments that bring a higher-resolution tool to the study of protein folding.

How proteins arrive at the three-dimensional shapes that determine their essential functions – or cause grave diseases when folding goes wrong – is considered one of the most important and least understood questions in the biological and medical sciences.

Folding itself follows a path determined by its energy landscape, a complex property described in unprecedented detail by the TUM researchers. In this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), they report taking hold of a single, zipper-like protein molecule and mapping changes in its energy landscape during folding and unfolding.

Previous studies, including atomic force microscopy experiments by the same Munich laboratory, have gone a long way toward characterizing energy thresholds or barriers that stand between a protein's unfolded and folded states. Detailed observations of the quick transition from one state to the other have remained elusive. The results published this week open the door to higher-resolution, direct measurements. Better characterization of the folding process is seen as a vital link in understanding the chain of events leading from DNA coding for a protein to that protein's biological function. Another motivation for research in this field is the search for new drugs and therapies, because malfunctions in protein folding are implicated in a number of serious diseases – including diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, prion diseases, and Alzheimer's.

This is the latest in a long series of single-molecule biophysical experiments carried out by Professor Matthias Rief and colleagues in the TUM Department of Physics. Co-authors Christof Gebhardt and Thomas Bornschloegl are members of Rief's lab; Gebhardt also is a member of the Munich Center for Integrated Protein Science.

As a model system for studying real-time protein folding dynamics, the TUM scientists chose a so-called leucine zipper found in yeast. It offers, as proteins go, a relatively simple "coiled coil" structure and zipper-like folding action: Picture two amino acid strings side by side, joined at the bottom, open at the top, and made essentially to zip together.

The researchers extended this structure so that they could make independent measurements at the top, bottom, and middle parts of the zipper. They took hold of the free ends at the top of the zipper with handles made of double-stranded DNA. These DNA handles in turn were attached to tiny beads that could be directly manipulated by "optical tweezers" – a tool based on the ability of laser beams with a certain kind of profile to pin down nanoscale objects. One end of the protein molecule was held fixed, and the other was held under tension but with some freedom to move, so that folding dynamics could be measured directly, in real time, as the protein zipped and unzipped. This arrangement enabled measurements with high resolution in both space and time.

"What I consider the major improvement is that the new experiments allow the observation of thousands of transitions between the folded and the unfolded state," Rief said. "This enables us to detect not only the folded and unfolded states but also, directly, the excursions of the large energy barriers separating those states. This has previously been impossible, and it now allows direct insight into the precise energy profile of this barrier."

Publication: Full distance resolved folding energy landscape of one single protein molecule, by J. Christof M. Gebhart, Thomas Bornschloegl, and Matthias Rief, PNAS Early Edition for the week of Jan. 18, 2010.


Prof. Matthias Rief
Chair for Experimental Physics
Technische Universität Muenchen (TUM)
James-Franck-Str. 1
85748 Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 289 12471
Fax: +49 89 289 12523

Patrick Regan | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht ‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie

nachricht Calcium Induces Chronic Lung Infections
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>