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- Mechanisms of energy transfer and conversion in plant light-harvesting complex II (2009)
- The light-harvesting complex of photosystem II (LHC-II) is the major antenna complex in plant photosynthesis. It accounts for roughly 30% of the total protein in plant chloroplasts, which makes it arguably the most abundant membrane protein on Earth, and binds about half of plant chlorophyll (Chl). The complex assembles as a trimer in the thylakoid membrane and binds a total of 54 pigment molecules, including 24 Chl a, 18 Chl b, 6 lutein (Lut), 3 neoxanthin (Neo) and 3 violaxanthin (Vio). LHC-II has five key roles in plant photosynthesis. It: (1) harvests sunlight and transmits excitation energy to the reaction centres of photosystems II and I, (2) regulates the amount of excitation energy reaching each of the two photosystems, (3) has a structural role in the architecture of the photosynthetic supercomplexes, (4) contributes to the tight appression of thylakoid membranes in chloroplast grana, and (5) protects the photosynthetic apparatus from photo damage by non photochemical quenching (NPQ). A major fraction of NPQ is accounted for its energy-dependent component qE. Despite being critical for plant survival and having been studied for decades, the exact details of how excess absorbed light energy is dissipated under qE conditions remain enigmatic. Today it is accepted that qE is regulated by the magnitude of the pH gradient (ΔpH) across the thylakoid membrane. It is also well documented that the drop in pH in the thylakoid lumen during high-light conditions activates the enzyme violaxanthin de-epoxidase (VDE), which converts the carotenoid Vio into zeaxanthin (Zea) as part of the xanthophyll cycle. Additionally, studies with Arabidopsis mutants revealed that the photosystem II subunit PsbS is necessary for qE. How these physiological responses switch LHC-II from the active, energy transmitting to the quenched, energy-dissipating state, in which the solar energy is not transmitted to the photosystems but instead dissipated as heat, remains unclear and is the subject of this thesis. From the results obtained during this doctoral work, five main conclusions can be drawn concerning the mechanism of qE: 1. Substitution of Vio by Zea in LHC-II is not sufficient for efficient dissipation of excess excitation energy. 2. Aggregation quenching of LHC-II does not require Vio, Neo nor a specific Chl pair. 3. With one exception, the pigment structure in LHC-II is rigid. 4. The two X-ray structures of LHC-II show the same energy transmitting state of the complex. 5. Crystalline LHC-II resembles the complex in the thylakoid membrane. Models of the aggregation quenching mechanism in vitro and the qE mechanism in vivo are presented as a corollary of this doctoral work. LHC-II aggregation quenching in vitro is attributed to the formation of energy sinks on the periphery of LHC-II through random interaction with other trimers, free pigments or impurities. A similar but unrelated process is proposed to occur in the thylakoid membrane, by which excess excitation energy is dissipated upon specific interaction between LHC-II and a PsbS monomer carrying Zea. At the end of this thesis, an innovative experimental model for the analysis of all key aspects of qE is proposed in order to finally solve the qE enigma, one of the last unresolved problems in photosynthesis research.
- Characterization of Aquifex aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase and its heterologous production in Escherichia coli (2013)
- This work presents a biochemical, functional and structural characterization of Aquifex aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase obtained using both a native form (AAF1FO) and a heterologous form (EAF1FO) of this enzyme. F1FO ATP synthases catalyze the synthesis of ATP from ADP and inorganic phosphate driven by ion motive forces across the membrane and therefore play a key cellular function. Because of their central role in supporting life, F1FO ATP synthases are ubiquitous and have been remarkably conserved throughout evolution. For their biological importance, F1FO ATP synthases have been extensively studied for many decades and many of them were characterized from both a functional and a structural standpoint. However, important properties of ATP synthases – specifically properties pertaining to their membrane embedded subunits – have yet to be determined and no structures are available to date for the intact enzyme complex. Therefore, F1FO ATP synthases are still a major focus of research worldwide. Our research group had previously reported an initial characterization of AAF1FO and had indicated that this enzyme presents unique features, i.e. a bent central stalk and a putatively heterodimeric peripheral stalk. Based on such a characterization, this enzyme revealed promising for structural and functional studies on ATP synthases and became the focus of this doctoral thesis. Two different lines of research were followed in this work. First, the characterization of AAF1FO was extended by bioinformatic, biochemical and enzymatic analyses. The work on AAF1FO led to the identification of a new detergent that maintains a higher homogeneity and integrity of the complex, namely the detergent trans-4-(trans-4’-propylcyclohexyl)cyclohexyl-α-D-maltoside (α-PCC). The characterization of AAF1FO in this new detergent showed that AAF1FO is a proton-dependent, not a sodium ion-dependent ATP synthase and that its ATP hydrolysis mechanism needs to be triggered and activated by high temperatures, possibly inducing a conformational switch in subunit γ. Moreover, this approach suggested that AAF1FO may present unusual features in its membrane subunits, i.e. short N-terminal segments in subunits a and c with implications for the membrane insertion mechanism of these subunits. Investigating on these unique features of A. aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase could not be done using A. aeolicus cells, because these require a harsh and dangerous environment for growth and they are inaccessible to genetic manipulations. Therefore, a second approach was pursued, in which an expression system was created to produce the enzyme in the heterologous host E. coli. This second approach was experimentally challenging, because A. aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase is a 500-kDa multimeric membrane enzyme with a complicated and still not entirely determined stoichiometry and because its encoding genes are scattered throughout A. aeolicus genome, rather than being organized in one single operon. However, an artificial operon suitable for expression was created in this work and led to the successful production of an active and fully assembled form of Aquifex aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase. Such artificial operon was created using a stepwise approach, in which we expressed and studied first individual subunits, then subcomplexes, and finally the entire F1FO ATP synthase complex. We confirmed experimentally that subunits b1 and b2 form a heterodimeric subcomplex in the E. coli membranes, which is a unique case among ATP synthases of non-photosynthetic organisms. Moreover, we determined that the b1b2 subcomplex is sufficient to recruit the soluble F1 subcomplex to the membranes, without requiring the presence of the other membrane subunits a and c. The latter subunits can be produced in our expression system only when the whole ATP synthase is expressed, but not in isolation nor in the context of smaller FO subcomplexes. These observations led us to propose a novel mechanism for the assembly of ATP synthases, in which first the F1 subcomplex attaches to the membrane via subunit b1b2, and then cring and subunits a assemble to complete the FO subcomplex. Furthermore, we could purify the heterologous ATP synthase (EAF1FO) to homogeneity by chromatography and electro-elution. Enzymatic assays showed that the purified form of EAF1FO is as active as AAF1FO. Peptide mass fingerprinting showed that EAF1FO is composed of the same subunits as AAF1FO and all soluble and membrane subunits could be identified. Finally, single-particle electron microscopy analysis revealed that the structure of EAF1FO is identical to that of AAF1FO. Therefore, the EAF1FO expression system serves as a reliable platform for investigating on properties of AAF1FO. Specifically, in this work, EAF1FO was used to study the membrane insertion mechanism of rotary subunit c. Subunits c possess different lengths and levels of hydrophobicity across species and by analyzing their N-terminal variability, four phylogenetic groups of subunits c were distinguished (groups 1 to 4). As a member of group 2, the subunit c from A. aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase is characterized by an N-terminal segment that functions as a signal peptide with SRP recognition features, a unique case for bacterial F1FO ATP synthases. By accurately designing mutants of EAF1FO, we determined that such a signal peptide is strictly necessary for membrane insertion of subunit c and we concluded that A. aeolicus subunit c inserts into E. coli membranes using a different pathway than E. coli subunit c. Such a property may be common to other ATP synthases from extremophilic organisms, which all cluster in the same phylogenetic group. In conclusion, the successful production of the fully assembled and active F1FO ATP synthase from A. aeolicus in E. coli reported in this work provides a novel genetic system to study A. aeolicus F1FO ATP synthase. To a broader extent, it will also serve in the future as a solid reference for designing strategies aimed at producing large multi-subunit complexes with complicated stoichiometry.
- Thermodynamic and kinetic characterisation of the interaction between mitochondrial cytochrome bc 1 complex and cytochrome c and implications for transient binding and electron transfer (2009)
- In mitochondrial respiration, the soluble protein cytochrome c accepts an electron from the membrane bound cytochrome bc1. The interaction between cytochrome bc1 and cytochrome c is highly transient in nature, enabling turnover numbers greater than 160 s-1. Yeast cytochrome bc1 has been successfully crystallised with bound cytochrome c with the help of an antibody fragment (Lange and Hunte 2002; Solmaz and Hunte 2008). In all crystal structures of the complex, the homodimeric cytochrome bc1 binds only one cytochrome c, with the binding site located on subunit cytochrome c1. Univalent cytochrome c binding is correlated with conformational changes of the Rieske protein head domain and subunit QCR6p. The interface of the complex is small. The haem moieties are centrally located in a mainly non-polar contact site that includes a cation–! interaction and is surrounded by complementary charged residues. The crystal structure is in agreement with the general architecture of the interfaces of transient redox complexes and also reveals several interesting features unique to the cytochrome bc1. On the basis of the crystal structures, an extensive thermodynamic and kinetic characterisation of the interaction was carried out in this work to challenge the static snapshot of the bound proteins in the crystal structure as the relevant physiological electron transfer. The thermodynamic parameters of the interaction between the redox partners were determined using isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). The association constant for cytochrome bc1 and cytochrome c in oxidised state under physiological ionic strength of 120 mM at 25 °C, was determined to be 5 " 103 M-1 by direct ITC titration. So, the partners interact with an affinity of 200 #M. In spite of the low affinity the complex has a life time ($ = 1/koff) of 5 #second, sufficiently long to enable the theoretically calculated electron transfer rates of 1.0 " 106 to 2.6 " 107 s%1 with a lifetime ($ = 1/rate) of 1-0.04 μseconds and experimentally determined rate of 7.7 " 104 s%1 with a lifetime of 13 μseconds. The low affinity makes it difficult to ascertain the stoichiometry of binding. The enthalpy of the interaction is endothermic, which is consistent with the nature of an interface where hydrophobic interactions are dominant. The enthalpy and entropy is 3.6 kJmol-1 and 83 kJmol-1K-1, respectively. The importance of key interface residues was also investigated. The role of the interface residue G89 of cytochrome c which might have a role in the dissociation of the complex has been probed by site-directed mutagenesis. The interface contains a cation-! interaction between F230 of cytochrome bc1 and R19 of cytochrome c, which is thought to provide the specificity to the interaction between the otherwise promiscuous partners. To analyse the role of this interaction pair in electron transfer, F230L and F230W mutants were used to measure direct electron transfer rates by flash photolysis and steady state kinetics. The findings indicate that another ! system can work as functional substitution of F230, while deleting the ! system has a deleterious effect on the complex formation. The inability of F230L to achieve the transient and steady state turnover rates as wild type protein indicates a scenario where the variant achieves an altered bound state with inefficient electron transfer pathways and higher edge-to-edge distance. The role of supernumerary subunit QCR6p in complex formation was investigated by steady state kinetics measurements. Subunit QCR6p does not interact directly with cytochrome c but is positioned in such a way that it could electrostatically steer cytochrome c in a reactive ensemble. The highly acidic and disordered N-terminus of QCR6p could interact with a patch of conserved lysine residues on cytochrome c. The role of subunit QCR6p has been assessed using QCR6p deleted cytochrome bc1 and a lysine variant of cytochrome c. The results show that QCR6p not only affects the kinetics of the interaction but is also important for the stability of cytochrome bc1. The kinetic and thermodynamic data obtained during this study provide evidence for the functional importance of non-catalytic cytochrome bc1 subunit QCR6p, show that the entropy driven interaction is indeed of low affinity and highly transient in nature and indicate that the interface is well suited to ensure the high turnover of the electron transfer chain where cytochrome c interacts with multiple partners using overlapping interfaces. The suggested role of the cation-! interaction as a highly specific interaction has been validated.
- Heterologous production and characterization of selected secondary active transporters from the CDF, KUP, MOP, FNT, RhtB and SulP families (2010)
- Genes coding for membrane proteins make up 25%-30% of the genome in most organisms. Membrane proteins play an important role in cell functioning and their importance is enhanced by the fact that a large number of drugs are targeted at membrane proteins. Paradoxically, experimentally determined structures of membrane protein correspond to only about 1.7% of protein structures deposited in the protein data bank (PDB). This is largely due to the fact that membrane proteins are difficult to deal with owing to their amphipathic nature. The low abundance of membrane proteins in native tissue makes heterologous overexpression of these genes a necessity. This thesis work aimed at heterologous production of several secondary active transporter proteins for structural and functional characterizations and establishing alternative strategies to overcome the obstacles associated with heterologous overproduction. Four members of the heavy metal transporting cation diffusion facilitator (CDF) family from S. typhimurium and A. aeolicus were heterologously overproduced in E. coli and functionally characterized by an in vivo complementation assay using the zinc transport deficient E. coli GG48 strain. Out of these four, Aq_2073 from A. aeolicus was produced in large scale with substantial yield and purity sufficient to carry out structural studies. After extensive stability studies with different detergents, pHs and temperatures, the protein was subjected to 3D and 2D crystallization trials. Several C- terminal truncated constructs were made and the simultaneous crystallization screenings were carried out. These resulted in initial needle like crystals in 3D crystallization trials or optimum sized vesicles with crystalline patches in 2D crystallization trials but no obvious crystal. The protein showed significant increase in melting temperature in the presence of cadmium, when tested by differential scanning calorimetry. Another transporter, STM3880 of the potassium uptake permease (KUP) family from S. typhimurium, was heterologously overproduced in E. coli, purified by affinity chromatography, reconstituted into artificial liposome and functionally characterized by solid supported membrane based electrophysiology. In order to establish alternative expression strategies, continuous exchange cell free expression (CECF) of proteins from four different families was carried out. This method found to be aptly complementing the cell-based production approach. Targets from resistance to homoserine/threonine (RhtB) family not expressing in vivo could be expressed and purified using CECF. STM1781 of the sulfate permease (SulP) family was expressed, purified and characterized for stability while the cell-based production resulted in extensive degradation. PF0780 of multidrug/oligosaccharidyllipid/polysaccharide flippase (MOP) family was also purified to homogeneity and the stability was comparable to in vivo produced protein. Moreover, the effect of maltose binding protein (MBP) fusion at N-terminus on production and membrane integration was tested with three selected targets. The analysis revealed decreased yields in the presence of MBP if the protein had both termini in the cytoplasm. This work succeed in heterologously overproducing and establishing purification protocols for several secondary active transporters aiming at structural and functional characterization in a structural genomics framework. It also showed that integration of alternative strategies, like employing both cell-based and cell-free heterologous expression systems, expands the overall expression space coverage and in turn increases the chance of success of a structural genomics styled project.