Gauging a Hydrocarbon Ruler by an Intrinsic Exciton Probe
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The structural basis of lipid acyl-chain selection by membrane-intrinsic enzymes is poorly understood because most integral membrane enzymes of lipid metabolism have proven refractory to structure determination; however, robust enzymes from the outer membranes of gram-negative bacteria are now providing a first glimpse at the underlying mechanisms. The methylene unit resolution of the phospholipid:lipid A palmitoyltransferase PagP is determined by the hydrocarbon ruler, a 16-carbon saturated acyl-chain-binding pocket buried within the transmembrane beta-barrel structure. Substitution of Gly88 lining the floor of the hydrocarbon ruler with Ala or Met makes the enzyme select specifically 15- or 12-carbon saturated acyl chains, respectively, indicating that hydrocarbon ruler depth determines acyl-chain selection. However, the Gly88Cys PagP resolution does not diminish linearly because it selects both 14- and 15-carbon saturated acyl chains. We discovered that an exciton, emanating from a buried Tyr26-Trp66 phenol-indole interaction, is extinguished by a local structural perturbation arising from the proximal Gly88Cys PagP sulfhydryl group. Site-specific S-methylation of the single Cys afforded Gly88Cys-S-methyl PagP, which reasserted both the exciton and methylene unit resolution by specifically selecting 13-carbon saturated acyl chains for transfer to lipid A. Unlike the other Gly88 substitutions, the Cys sulfhydryl group recedes from the hydrocarbon ruler floor and locally perturbs the subjacent Tyr26 and Trp66 aromatic rings. The resulting hydrocarbon ruler expansion thus occurs at the exciton's expense and accommodates an extra methylene unit in the selected acyl chain. The hydrocarbon ruler-exciton juxtaposition endows PagP with a molecular gauge for probing the structural basis of lipid acyl-chain selection in a membrane-intrinsic environment.
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