Evaluating Protein Structure and Dynamics Using Co-Solvents, Photochemical Triggers, and Site-Specific Spectroscopic Probes

Rachel M Abaskharon, University of Pennsylvania


As ubiquitous and diverse biopolymers, proteins are dynamic molecules that are constantly engaging in inter- and intramolecular interactions responsible for their structure, fold, and function. Because of this, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the factors that control protein conformation and dynamics remains elusive as current experimental techniques often lack the ability to initiate and probe a specific interaction or conformational transition. For this reason, this thesis aims to develop methods to control and monitor protein conformations, conformational transitions, and dynamics in a site-specific manner, as well as to understand how specific and non-specific interactions affect the protein folding energy landscape. First, by using the co-solvent, trifluoroethanol (TFE), we show that the rate at which a peptide folds can be greatly impacted and thus controlled by the excluded volume effect. Secondly, we demonstrate the utility of several light-responsive molecules and reactions as methods to manipulate and investigate protein-folding processes. Using an azobenzene linker as a photo-initiator, we are able to increase the folding rate of a protein system by an order of magnitude by channeling a sub-population through a parallel, faster folding pathway. Additionally, we utilize a tryptophan-mediated electron transfer process to a nearby disulfide bond to strategically unfold a protein molecule with ultraviolet light. We also demonstrate the potential of two ruthenium polypyridyl complexes as ultrafast phototriggers of protein reactions. Finally, we develop several site-specific spectroscopic probes of protein structure and environment. Specifically, we demonstrate that a 13C-labeled aspartic acid residue constitutes a useful site-specific infrared probe for investigating salt-bridges and hydration dynamics of proteins, particularly in proteins containing several acidic amino acids. We also show that a proline-derivative, 4-oxoproline, possesses novel infrared properties that can be exploited to monitor the cis-trans isomerization process of individual proline residues in proteins.

Subject Area

Biochemistry|Physical chemistry

Recommended Citation

Abaskharon, Rachel M, "Evaluating Protein Structure and Dynamics Using Co-Solvents, Photochemical Triggers, and Site-Specific Spectroscopic Probes" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10273028.