A synthetic approach is introduced for localization of subunit interacting surfaces in oligomeric proteins. It consists of studying the binding activity of consecutive uniform overlapping peptides encompassing an entire subunit to the other, radiolabelled, subunit. This permits the establishment of the full profile of peptides that bind the other intact subunit. This approach has been demonstrated with haemoglobin, and its application here with the beta-chain peptides has enabled the localization on the beta-chain of the submolecular regions responsible for its binding to alpha-chain in solution. There was good agreement between the binding surfaces found here in solution and those expected from the crystal structure. There were also, however, some significant differences in the levels of binding found in solution and those expected from the crystal. Peptide 21-35 possessed much higher binding activity than would be expected from its contribution to subunit association in the crystal. Conversely, other regions expected to possess considerable binding capacity for alpha-chain either showed low (peptides 111-125 and 121-135) or almost no binding (peptides 91-105 and 101-115) capacity. On the other hand, two interacting surfaces (within peptides 11-25 and 71-85) that make a contribution in solution do not appear to play a role in the crystal. It is concluded that the regions of subunit association in solution are close to, but not identical with, those in the crystal. The approach should serve as an effective method for localization of subunit interacting surfaces of unknown proteins, even those that can be isolated only in traces.

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