Submolecular details of Azotobacter vinelandii apoflavodoxin (apoFD) (un)folding are revealed by time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy using wild-type protein and variants lacking one or two of apoFD's three tryptophans. ApoFD equilibrium (un)folding by guanidine hydrochloride follows a three-state model: native unfolded intermediate. In native protein, W128 is a sink for Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET). Consequently, unidirectional FRET with a 50-ps transfer correlation time occurs from W167 to W128. FRET from W74 to W167 is much slower (6.9 ns). In the intermediate, W128 and W167 have native-like geometry because the 50-ps transfer time is observed. However, non-native structure exists between W74 and W167 because instead of 6.9 ns the transfer correlation time is 2.0 ns. In unfolded apoFD this 2.0-ns transfer correlation time is also detected. This decrease in transfer correlation time is a result of W74 and W167 becoming solvent accessible and randomly oriented toward one another. Apparently W74 and W167 are near-natively separated in the folding intermediate and in unfolded apoFD. Both tryptophans may actually be slightly closer in space than in the native state, even though apoFD's radius increases substantially upon unfolding. In unfolded apoFD the 50-ps transfer time observed for native and intermediate folding states becomes 200 ps as W128 and W167 are marginally further separated than in the native state. Apparently, apoFD's unfolded state is not a featureless statistical coil but contains well-defined substructures. The approach presented is a powerful tool to study protein folding.
- azotobacter-vinelandii apoflavodoxin
- fluorescence depolarization
- lipoamide dehydrogenase
- flavin fluorescence
- backbone dynamics