Protein conformational changes, which regulate the activity of proteins, are induced by the alternation of intramolecular interactions. Therefore, the detection of the local environmental changes around the key amino acid residues is essential to understand the activation mechanisms of functional proteins. Here we developed the methods to scan the local environmental changes using the vibrational band of cysteine S-H group. We validated the sensitivity of this method using bathorhodopsin, a photoproduct of rhodopsin trapped at liquid nitrogen temperature, which undergoes little conformational changes from the dark state as shown by the X-ray crystallography. The cysteine residues were individually introduced into 15 positions of Helix III, which contains several key amino acid residues for the light-induced conformational changes of rhodopsin. The shifts of S-H stretching modes of these cysteine residues and native cysteine residues upon the formation of bathorhodopsin were measured by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. While most of cysteine residues demonstrated no shift of S-H stretching mode, cysteine residues introduced at positions 117, 118, and 122, which are in the vicinity of the chromophore, demonstrated the significant changes. The current results are consistent with the crystal structure of bathorhodopsin, implying that the cysteine scanning is sensitive enough to detect the tiny conformational changes.
2014 THE BIOPHYSICAL SOCIETY OF JAPAN