Based on the conformational dependence of the amide-I i.r. band, this paper explores the use of Fourier-transform i.r. spectroscopy methods to probe structural features of proteins present in native membranes from Torpedo highly enriched in acetylcholine receptor (AcChR). The interference of water absorbance on the amide-I spectral region has been eliminated through isotopic exchange by freeze-drying the membranes in the presence of trehalose to avoid protein denaturation induced by drying, followed by resuspension in deuterated water. AcChR-rich membrane samples prepared in such a way maintained an ability to undergo affinity-state transitions and to promote cation translocation in response to cholinergic agonists, which are functional characteristics of native untreated samples. The temperature-dependence of the i.r. spectrum indicates a massive loss of ordered protein structure, occurring at temperatures similar to those reported for thermal denaturation of the AcChR by differential scanning calorimetry and by thermal inactivation of alpha-bungarotoxin-binding sites on the AcChR [Artigues, Villar, Ferragut & Gonzalez-Ros (1987) Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 258, 33-41], thus suggesting that the observed i.r. spectral changes correspond to alterations in the structure of the AcChR protein. Furthermore, the presence of detergents as well as cholinergic agonists and antagonists produces spectral changes that are also consistent with the alterations in AcChR protein structure expected from previous calorimetric studies. In contrast with the information obtained by calorimetry, i.r. spectroscopy allows the contribution of secondary structural changes to be distinguished from the overall change in protein structure. Thus prolonged exposure to cholinergic agonists, which drives the AcChR protein into the desensitized state, produces only negligible alterations in the amide-I band shape, but increases substantially the thermal stability of the protein. This suggests that rearrangements in the tertiary or quaternary structure of the protein are more likely to occur than extensive changes in secondary structure as a consequence of AcChR desensitization.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.