NMR approaches to understanding intramolecular and intermolecular interactions in proteins

  • Stanislava Panova

Student thesis: Phd


Inhibition of the intrinsically disordered proteins (IDP) is a recognized issue in drug research. Standard approaches, based on key-lock model, cannot be used in the absence of rigid structure and defined active site. Here a basic helix-loop-helix leucine zipper (bHLHZip) domain of c-Myc was studied, which is intrinsically disordered and prone to aggregation. Chemical denaturation of proteins is a widely accepted technique to study protein folding, but here this methodology was applied to IDP, observing its effect on the structural ensemble of c-Myc by NMR spectroscopy. Nonlinear chemical shift changes indicated cooperative unfolding of the helical structure of the part of the leucine zipper domain in parallel with the melting of the N-terminal helix. Paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) was used to probe long-range structure and revealed presence of long-range contacts. The following search for inhibitors can be directed to the search for ligands, locking c-Myc in its more compact conformation.Protein self-association is a problem typical for IDPs and intrinsic process for all proteins at high concentrations. It leads to increased viscosity, gelation and possible precipitation, which cause problems in protein manufacturing, stability and delivery. If protein drugs require high dosing, special approaches are needed. At high concentrations proteins experience conditions close to the crystal state, therefore interactions in solution could potentially coincide with crystal lattice contacts. A range of diverse methods is used to study this process, but the complexity of the mechanism makes it hard to build a reliable model. Here, the self-association of streptococcal Protein G (PrtG) was studied using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy in solution. The properties of protein-protein interactions at high concentration, up to ~ 160 mg/ml, were studied at residue-level resolution. Residue specific information on protein dynamics was obtained using 15N relaxation measurements. The experiments were carried out at multiple concentrations. Variation in the rotational correlation time over these concentrations showed changes in the protein dynamics, which indicated weak protein-protein interactions occurring in solution. Pulsed-field gradient NMR spectroscopy was used to monitor translational diffusion coefficients in order to estimate the degree of protein self-association. Oligomer formation was also monitored by looking at variations in 1H and 15N amide chemical shifts. Better understanding of protein self-association mechanisms under different conditions could assist in developing methods to reduce the level of reversible protein self-association in solution at high protein concentrations.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Waltho (Supervisor), Jeremy Derrick (Supervisor) & Alexander Golovanov (Supervisor)


  • protein interactions
  • self-association
  • NMR spectroscopy
  • protein
  • intrinsically disordered protein

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