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Mechanics of proteins with a focus on atomic force microscopy

Abstract : The capacity of proteins to function relies on a balance between molecular stability to maintain their folded state and structural flexibility allowing conformational changes related to biological function. Among many others, four different examples can be chosen. The giant protein titin is stretched and can unfold during muscle contraction providing passive elasticity to muscle tissue; myoglobin adsorbs and releases oxygen molecules thank to conformational changes in its structure; the outer membrane protein G (OmpG) is a bacterial porin with a long and flexible loop that modulates gating; and the proton pump bacteriorhodopsin adapts its cytosolic half to allow proton pumping. All these conformational changes triggered either by chemical or by physical cues, require mechanical flexibility or elasticity of certain protein domains. While the methods to determine protein structure, X-ray crystallography above all, have been dramatically improved over the last decades, the number of tools that directly measure the mechanical flexibility of proteins and protein domains is still limited. In this tutorial, after a brief introduction to protein structure, we present some of the available techniques to estimate protein flexibility, then focusing on atomic force microscopy (AFM). We describe the principles of the technique and its various imaging and force spectroscopy modes of operation that allow probing the elasticity of proteins, protein domains and their surrounding environment.
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https://www.hal.inserm.fr/inserm-01356883
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Felix Rico, Annafrancesca Rigato, Laura Picas, Simon Scheuring. Mechanics of proteins with a focus on atomic force microscopy. 2013, ⟨10.1021/nl202351t⟩. ⟨inserm-01356883⟩

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