Most proteins function in nature under crowded conditions, and crowding can change protein properties. Quantification of crowding effects, however, is difficult because solutions containing hundreds of grams per liter of macromolecules often interfere with observing the protein being studied. Models for macromolecular crowding tend to focus on the steric effects of crowders, neglecting potential chemical interactions between the crowder and the test protein. Here, we report the first systematic, quantitative, residue-level study of crowding effects on the equilibrium stability of a globular protein. We used a system comprising poly(vinylpyrrolidone)s (PVPs) of varying molecular weights as crowding agents and chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) as a small globular test protein. Stability was quantified with NMR-detected amide 1H exchange. We analyze the data in terms of hard particle exclusion, confinement, and soft interactions. For all crowded conditions, nearly every observed residue experiences a stabilizing effect. The exceptions are residues where stabilities are unchanged. At a PVP concentration of 100 g/L, the data are consistent with theories of hard particle exclusion. At higher concentrations, the data are more consistent with confinement. The data show that the crowder also stabilizes the test protein by weakly binding its native state. We conclude that the role of native-state binding and other soft interactions need to be seriously considered when applying both theory and experiment to studies of macromolecular crowding.
A cell's interior is comprised of macromolecules that can occupy up to 40% of its available volume. Such crowded environments can influence the stability of proteins and their rates of reaction. Using discrete molecular dynamics simulations, we investigate how both the size and number of neighboring crowding reagents affect the thermodynamic and folding properties of structurally diverse proteins. We find that crowding induces higher compaction of proteins. We also find that folding becomes less cooperative with the introduction of crowders into the system. The crowders may induce alternative non-native protein conformations, thus creating barriers for protein folding in highly crowded media.
Proteins perform their function in cells where macromolecular solutes reach concentrations of >300 g/L and occupy >30% of the volume. The volume excluded by these macromolecules will stabilize globular proteins because the native state occupies less space than the denatured state. Theory predicts that crowding can increase the ratio of folded to unfolded protein by a factor of 100, amounting to 3 kcal/mol of stabilization at room temperature. We tested the idea that volume exclusion dominates the crowding effect in cells with a variant of protein L, a 7-kDa globular protein with seven lysine residues replaced by glutamic acids. Eighty-four percent of the variant molecules populate the denatured state in dilute buffer at room temperature, compared to 0.1% for the wild-type protein. We then used in-cell nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to show that the cytoplasm of Escherichia coli does not overcome even this modest (~1 kcal/mol) free energy deficit. The data are consistent with the idea that non-specific interactions between cytoplasmic components can overcome the excluded volume effect. Evidence for these interactions is provided by the observation that adding simple salts folds the variant in dilute solution, but increasing the salt concentration inside E. coli does not fold the protein. Our data are consistent with other studies of protein stability in cells, and suggest that stabilizing excluded volume effects, which must be present under crowded conditions, can be ameliorated by non-specific interactions between cytoplasmic components.
Inside cells, the concentration of macromolecules can reach up to 400 g/L. In such crowded environments, proteins are expected to behave differently than in vitro. It has been shown that the stability and the folding rate of a globular protein can be altered by the excluded volume effect produced by a high density of macromolecules. However, macromolecular crowding effects on intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are less explored. These proteins can be extremely dynamic and potentially sample a wide ensemble of conformations under non-denaturing conditions. The dynamic properties of IDPs are intimately related to the timescale of conformational exchange within the ensemble, which govern target recognition and how these proteins function. In this work, we investigated the macromolecular crowding effects on the dynamics of several IDPs by measuring the NMR spin relaxation parameters of three disordered proteins (ProTα, TC1, and α-synuclein) with different extents of residual structures. To aid the interpretation of experimental results, we also performed an MD simulation of ProTα. Based on the MD analysis, a simple model to correlate the observed changes in relaxation rates to the alteration in protein motions under crowding conditions was proposed. Our results show that 1) IDPs remain at least partially disordered despite the presence of high concentration of other macromolecules, 2) the crowded environment has differential effects on the conformational propensity of distinct regions of an IDP, which may lead to selective stabilization of certain target-binding motifs, and 3) the segmental motions of IDPs on the nanosecond timescale are retained under crowded conditions. These findings strongly suggest that IDPs function as dynamic structural ensembles in cellular environments.
Understanding the influence of macromolecular crowding and nanoparticles on the formation of in-register β-sheets, the primary structural component of amyloid fibrils, is a first step towards describing in vivo protein aggregation and interactions between synthetic materials and proteins. Using all atom molecular simulations in implicit solvent we illustrate the effects of nanoparticle size, shape, and volume fraction on oligomer formation of an amyloidogenic peptide from the transthyretin protein. Surprisingly, we find that inert spherical crowding particles destabilize in-register β-sheets formed by dimers while stabilizing β-sheets comprised of trimers and tetramers. As the radius of the nanoparticle increases crowding effects decrease, implying smaller crowding particles have the largest influence on the earliest amyloid species. We explain these results using a theory based on the depletion effect. Finally, we show that spherocylindrical crowders destabilize the ordered β-sheet dimer to a greater extent than spherical crowders, which underscores the influence of nanoparticle shape on protein aggregation.
crowding; in vivo; early events; amyloid
The interior of cells is highly crowded with macromolecules, which impacts all physiological processes. To explore how macromolecular crowding may influence cellular protein folding, we interrogated the folding landscape of a model β-rich protein, cellular retinoic acid-binding protein I (CRABP I), in the presence of an inert crowding agent (Ficoll 70). Urea titrations revealed a crowding-induced change in the water-accessible polar amide surface of its denatured state, based on an observed ca. 15% decrease in the m-value (the change in unfolding free energy with respect to urea concentration), and the effect of crowding on the equilibrium stability of CRABP I was less than our experimental error (i.e., ≤1.2 kcal/mol). Consequently, we directly probed the effect of crowding on the denatured state of CRABP I by measuring side chain accessibility using iodide quenching of tryptophan fluorescence and chemical modification of cysteines. We observed that the urea-denatured state is more compact under crowded conditions, and the observed extent of reduction of the m value by crowding agent is fully consistent with the extent of reduction of the accessibility of the Trp and Cys probes, suggesting a random and nonspecific compaction of the unfolded state. The thermodynamic consequences of crowding-induced compaction are discussed. In addition, over a wide range of Ficoll concentration, crowding significantly retarded the unfolding kinetics of CRABP I without influencing the urea dependence of the unfolding rate, arguing for no appreciable change in the nature of the transition state. Our results demonstrate how macromolecular crowding may influence protein folding by effects both on the unfolded state ensemble and on unfolding kinetics. (end of abstract)
Microenvironments of biological cells are dominated in vivo by macromolecular crowding and resultant excluded volume effects. This feature is absent in dilute in vitro cell culture. Here, we induced macromolecular crowding in vitro by using synthetic macromolecular globules of nm-scale radius at physiological levels of fractional volume occupancy. We quantified the impact of induced crowding on the extracellular and intracellular protein organization of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) via immunocytochemistry, atomic force microscopy (AFM), and AFM-enabled nanoindentation. Macromolecular crowding in extracellular culture media directly induced supramolecular assembly and alignment of extracellular matrix proteins deposited by cells, which in turn increased alignment of the intracellular actin cytoskeleton. The resulting cell-matrix reciprocity further affected adhesion, proliferation, and migration behavior of MSCs. Macromolecular crowding can thus aid the design of more physiologically relevant in vitro studies and devices for MSCs and other cells, by increasing the fidelity between materials synthesized by cells in vivo and in vitro.
Macromolecular crowding inside cells affects the thermodynamic and kinetic properties of proteins. The scaled particle theory (SPT) has played an important role toward establishing a qualitative picture for the effects of crowding. However, SPT-based modeling lacks molecular details. Molecular dynamics simulations overcome this limitation, but at great computational cost. Here we present a theoretical method for modeling crowding at the atomic level. The method makes it possible to achieve exhaustive conformational sampling in modeling crowding effects and to tackle challenges posed by large protein oligomers and by complex mixtures of crowders.
The cytosol of a cell is a concentrated milieu of a variety of different molecules, including small molecules (salts and metabolites) and macromolecules such as nucleic acids, polysaccharides, proteins and large macromolecular complexes. Macromolecular crowding in the cytosolic environment is proposed to influence various properties of proteins, including substrate binding affinity and enzymatic activity. Here we chose to use the synthetic crowding agent Ficoll, which is commonly used to mimic cytosolic crowding conditions to study the crowding effect on the catalytic properties of glycolytic enzymes, namely phosphoglycerate kinase, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase, and acylphosphatase. We determined the kinetic parameters of these enzymes in the absence and in the presence of the crowding agent. We found that the Michaelis constant, Km, and the catalytic turnover number, kcat, of these enzymes are not perturbed by the presence of the crowding agent Ficoll. Our results support earlier findings which suggested that the Michaelis constant of certain enzymes evolved in consonance with the substrate concentration in the cell to allow effective enzyme function in bidirectional pathways. This conclusion is further supported by the analysis of nine other enzymes for which the Km values in the presence and absence of crowding agents have been measured.
The internal dynamics of proteins inside of cells may be
affected by the crowded intracellular environments. Here, we test
a novel approach to simulations of crowding, in which simulations
in the absence of crowders are postprocessed to predict crowding effects,
against the direct approach of simulations in the presence of crowders.
The effects of crowding on the flap dynamics of HIV-1 protease predicted
by the postprocessing approach are found to agree well with those
calculated by the direct approach. The postprocessing approach presents
distinct advantages over the direct approach in terms of accuracy
and speed and is expected to have broad impact on atomistic simulations
of macromolecular crowding.
In cells proteins fold and unfold in the presence of macromolecules with various sizes and shapes. Recent experiments by Liang and co-workers (J Biol Chem 2004;279:55109–55116; J Mol Biol 2006; 364:469–482) show that protein refolding is enhanced by a mixture of two different crowding agents relative to the individual crowding agents, and an optimal mixing ratio exists. Here we present a theory that predicts the existence of an optimal mixing ratio. The theory is based on models for calculating the changes in the chemical potentials of the folded and unfolded states by a mixture of crowders. The existence of an optimal mixing ratio results from the dependences of these chemical-potential changes on crowder sizes and concentrations, which can be argued to be quite general. We further predict that, for any crowding agent, the stabilizing effect can be optimized both by varying the molecular weight and by varying the mixing ratio of two species with different molecular weights.
excluded-volume effect; folding stability; folding rate
High macromolecular concentrations, or crowded conditions, have been shown to affect a wide variety of molecular processes, including diffusion, association and dissociation, and protein folding and stability. Here, we model the effect of macromolecular crowding on the internal dynamics of a protein, HIV-1 protease, using Brownian dynamics simulations. HIV-1 protease possesses a pair of flaps which are postulated to open in the early stages of its catalytic mechanism. Compared to low concentrations, close packed concentrations of repulsive crowding agents are found to significantly reduce the fraction of time that the protease is open. Macromolecular crowding is likely to have a major effect on in vivo enzyme activity, and may play an important regulatory role in the viral life cycle.
The binding of cytochrome c to pH and thermoresponsive colloidal hydrogels was investigated using multiangle light scattering, measuring loading through changes in particle molar mass and root mean square radius. Loosely cross-linked microgels [composed of a random copolymer of N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAm) and acrylic acid (AAc)] demonstrated a high loading capacity for protein. Encapsulation was dependent on both the charge characteristics of the network and the salinity of the medium. Under favorable binding conditions (neutral pH, low ionic strength), microgels containing the highest studied charge density (30 mol% AAc) were capable of encapsulating greater than 9.7 × 105 cytochrome c molecules per particle. Binding resulted in the formation of a polymer-protein complex and condensation of the polymer. Anionic microgels demonstrated a change in density ~20-fold in the presence of oppositely charged proteins. These studies of cytochrome c encapsulation represent a significant step towards direct measurement of encapsulation efficiency in complex media as we pursue responsive nanogels and microgels for the delivery of macromolecular therapeutic agents.
Protein protein interaction is the fundamental step of biological signal transduction. Interacting proteins find each other by diffusion. To gain insight into diffusion under the crowded conditions found in cells, we used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to measure the effects of solvent additives on the translational and rotational diffusion of the 7.4 kDa globular protein, chymotrypsin inhibitor 2. The additives were glycerol and the macromolecular crowding agent, polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). Both translational diffusion and rotational diffusion decrease with increasing solution viscosity. For glycerol, the decrease obeys the Stokes Einstein and Stokes Einstein Debye laws. Three types of deviation are observed for PVP: the decrease in diffusion with increased viscosity is less than predicted, this negative deviation is greater for rotational diffusion, and the negative deviation increases with increasing PVP molecular weight. We discuss our results in terms of other studies on the effects of macromolecules on globular protein diffusion.
macromolecular crowding; nuclear magnetic resonance; viscosity
How the crowded environment inside cells affects folding, stability and structures of proteins is a vital question, since most proteins are made and function inside cells. Here we describe how crowded conditions can be created in vitro and in silico and how we have used this to probe effects on protein properties. We have found that folded forms of proteins become more compact in the presence of macromolecular crowding agents; if the protein is aspherical, the shape also changes (extent dictated by native-state stability and chemical conditions). It was also discovered that the shape of the macromolecular crowding agent modulates the folding mechanism of a protein; in addition, the extent of asphericity of the protein itself is an important factor in defining its folding speed.
Macromolecular crowding; Ficoll® 70; energy landscape theory; off-lattice model; excluded volume effect; protein folding mechanism; spectroscopy
Summary: We have developed a general scenario of prebiotic physicochemical evolution during the Earth's Hadean eon and reviewed the relevant literature. We suggest that prebiotic chemical evolution started in microspaces with membranous walls, where external temperature and osmotic gradients were coupled to free-energy gradients of potential chemical reactions. The key feature of this scenario is the onset of an emergent evolutionary transition within the microspaces that is described by the model of complex vectorial chemistry. This transition occurs at average macromolecular crowding of 20 to 30% of the cell volume, when the ranges of action of stabilizing colloidal forces (screened electrostatic forces, hydration, and excluded volume forces) become commensurate. Under these conditions, the macromolecules divide the interior of microspaces into dynamically crowded macromolecular regions and topologically complementary electrolyte pools. Small ions and ionic metabolites are transported vectorially between the electrolyte pools and through the (semiconducting) electrolyte pathways of the crowded macromolecular regions from their high electrochemical potential (where they are biochemically produced) to their lower electrochemical potential (where they are consumed). We suggest a sequence of tentative transitions between major evolutionary periods during the Hadean eon as follows: (i) the early water world, (ii) the appearance of land masses, (iii) the pre-RNA world, (iv) the onset of complex vectorial chemistry, and (v) the RNA world and evolution toward Darwinian thresholds. We stress the importance of high ionic strength of the Hadean ocean (short Debye's lengths) and screened electrostatic interactions that enabled the onset of the vectorial structure of the cytoplasm and the possibility of life's emergence.
The interior of cells is crowded thus making it important to assess the effects of macromolecules on the folding of proteins. Using the Self-Organized Polymer (SOP) model, which is a coarse-grained representation of polypeptide chains, we probe the mechanical stability of Ubiquitin (Ub) monomers and trimers ((Ub)3) in the presence of monodisperse spherical crowding agents. Crowding increases the volume fraction (Φc)-dependent average force (⟨fu(Φc)⟩), relative to the value at Φc = 0, needed to unfold Ub and the polyprotein. For a given Φc, the values of ⟨fu(Φc)⟩ increase as the diameter (σc) of the crowding particles decreases. The average unfolding force ⟨fu(Φc)⟩ depends on the ratio DRg, where D≈σc(π6Φc)13 with Rg being the radius of gyration of Ub (or (Ub)3) in the unfolded state. Examination of the unfolding pathways shows that, relative to Φc = 0, crowding promotes reassociation of ruptured secondary structural elements. Both the nature of the unfolding pathways and ⟨fu(Φc)⟩ for (Ub)3 are altered in the presence of crowding particles with the effect being most dramatic for the subunit that unfolds last. We predict, based on SOP simulations and theoretical arguments, that 〈fu(Φc)〉~Φc13ν, where ν is the Flory exponent that describes the unfolded (random coil) state of the protein.
Depletion Effect; Entropic Stabilization; Crowders; AFM; Loading Rate; SOP model
Detailed characterization of hydrogel particle erosion revealed critical physicochemical differences between spheres, where network decomposition was informative of network structure. Real-time, in situ monitoring of the triggered erosion of colloidal hydrogels (microgels) was performed via multiangle light scattering. The solution-average molar mass and root-mean-square radii of eroding particles were measured as a function of time for microgels prepared from N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAm) or N-isopropylmethacrylamide (NIPMAm), copolymerized with a chemically-labile cross-linker (1,2-dihydroxylethylene)bisacrylamide (DHEA). Precipitation polymerization was employed to yield particles of comparable dimensions but with distinct topological features. Heterogeneous cross-linker incorporation resulted in a heterogeneous network structure for pNIPAm microgels. During the erosion reaction, mass loss proceeded from the exterior towards the interior of the polymer. In contrast, pNIPMAm microgels had a more homogeneous network structure, which resulted in a more uniform mass loss throughout the particle during erosion. Although both particle types degraded into low molar mass products, pNIPAm microgels were incapable of complete dissolution due to the presence of non-degradable cross-links arising from chain transfer and branching during particle synthesis. The observations described herein provide insight into key design parameters associated with the synthesis of degradable hydrogel particles, which may be of use in various biotechnological applications.
polymer erosion; microgel; multiangle light scattering; responsive polymer; pNIPAm; pNIPMAm
Macromolecular crowding is one of the key characteristics of the cellular environment and therefore, is intimately coupled to the process of protein folding in vivo. While previous studies have provided invaluable insight into the effect of crowding on the stability and folding rate of protein tertiary structures, very little is known about how crowding affects protein folding dynamics at the secondary structure level. Herein, we examine the thermal stability and folding-unfolding kinetics of three small folding motifs, i.e., a 34-residue α-helix, a 34-residue cross-linked helix-turn-helix, and a 16-residue β hairpin, in the presence of two commonly used crowding agents, Dextran 70 (200 g/L) and Ficoll 70 (200 g/L). We find that these polymers do not induce any appreciable changes in the folding kinetics of the two helical peptides, which is somewhat surprising as the helix-coil transition kinetics have been shown to depend on viscosity. Also to our surprise and in contrast to what has been observed for larger proteins, we find that crowding leads to an appreciable decrease in the folding rate of the shortest β-hairpin peptide, indicating that besides the excluded volume effect, other factors also need to be considered when evaluating the net effect of crowding on protein folding kinetics. A model considering both the static and dynamic effects arising from the presence of the crowding agent is proposed to rationalize these results.
Macromolecular crowding; confinement; protein folding; helix-coil transition; β-hairpin folding
Theory predicts that macromolecular crowding affects protein behavior, but experimental confirmation is scant. Herein, we report the first residue-level interrogation of the effects of macromolecular crowding on protein stability. We observe up to a 100-fold increase in the stability, as measured by the equilibrium constant for folding, for the globular protein chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2) in concentrations of the cosolute poly(vinylpyrrolidone) (PVP) that mimic the protein concentration in cells. We show that the increased stability is caused by the polymeric nature of PVP and that the degree of stabilization depends on both the location of the individual residue in the protein structure and the PVP concentration. Our data reinforce the assertion that macromolecular crowding stabilizes the protein by destabilizing its unfolded states.
Crowder molecules in solution alter the equilibrium between folded and unfolded states of biological macromolecules. It is therefore critical to account for the influence of these other molecules when describing the folding of RNA inside the cell. Small angle x-ray scattering experiments are reported on a 64 kDa bacterial group I ribozyme in the presence of polyethylene-glycol 1000 (PEG-1000), a molecular crowder with average molecular weight 1000 Da. In agreement with expected excluded volume effects, PEG favors more compact RNA structures. Firstly, the transition from the unfolded to the folded (more compact) state occurs at lower MgCl2 concentrations in PEG. Secondly, the radius of gyration of the unfolded RNA decreases from 76 Å to 64 Å as the PEG concentration increases from 0 to 20 % wt./vol. Changes to water and ion activities were measured experimentally, and theoretical models were used to evaluate the excluded volume. We conclude that the dominant influence of the PEG crowder on the folding process is the excluded volume effect.
Microgels with two interpenetrating polymer networks of poly-N-isopropylacrylamide and poly-acrylic acid (PNIPAM-IPN-PAAc) were synthesized using a seed method. The IPN microgels in water have an average hydrodynamic radius of about 85 nm at 21 °C, measured by dynamic light scattering method. The atomic force microscope image showed that the particles were much smaller after they were dried but remain their spherical shape. The storage and loss moduli G' and G' ' of dispersions of IPN microgels were measured in the linear stress regime as functions of temperature and frequency at various polymer concentrations using a stress-controlled rheometer. For dispersions with high polymer concentration (3.5 and 6.0 wt%) and at high temperatures (34 and 38 °C), the samples behave as viscoelastic solids and the storage modulus was larger than the loss modulus over the entire frequency range. The loss tangent was measured at various frequencies as a function of temperature. The gelation temperature was determined to be 33 °C at the point where a frequency-independent value of the loss tangent was first observed.
Using an animal implantation model, the biocompatibility and drug release properties of the IPN microgl dispersion were evaluated. Fluorescein as a model drug was mixed into an aqueous microgel dispersion at ambient temperature. This drug loaded liquid was then injected subcutaneously in Balb/C mice from Taconic Farms. The test results have shown that the IPN microgels were biocompatible in this acute implantation model and the presence of gelled microgel dispersion substantially slowed the release of fluorescein.
In vitro studies of biological macromolecules are usually performed in dilute, buffered solutions containing one or just a few different biological macromolecules. Under these conditions, the interactions among molecules are diffusion limited. On the contrary, in living systems, macromolecules of a given type are surrounded by many others, at very high total concentrations. In the last few years, there has been an increasing effort to study biological macromolecules directly in natural crowded environments, as in intact bacterial cells or by mimicking natural crowding by adding proteins, polysaccharides, or even synthetic polymers. Here, we propose the use of hen egg white (HEW) as a simple natural medium, with all features of the media of crowded cells, that could be used by any researcher without difficulty and inexpensively. We present a study of the stability and dynamics behavior of model proteins in HEW, chosen as a prototypical, readily accessible natural medium that can mimic cytosol. We show that two typical globular proteins, dissolved in HEW, give NMR spectra very similar to those obtained in dilute buffers, although dynamic parameters are clearly affected by the crowded medium. The thermal stability of one of these proteins, measured in a range comprising both heat and cold denaturation, is also similar to that in buffer. Our data open new possibilities to the study of proteins in natural crowded media. Proteins 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
confinement; stability; folding; aggregation; cytoplasm
Cell-free protein expression (CFPE) comprised of in vitro transcription and translation is currently manipulated in relatively dilute solutions, in which the macromolecular crowding effects present in living cells are largely ignored. This may not only affect the efficiency of protein synthesis in vitro, but also limit our understanding of the functions and interactions of biomolecules involved in this fundamental biological process.
Using cell-free synthesis of Renilla luciferase in wheat germ extract as a model system, we investigated the CFPE under macromolecular crowding environments emulated with three different crowding agents: PEG-8000, Ficoll-70 and Ficoll-400, which vary in chemical properties and molecular size. We found that transcription was substantially enhanced in the macromolecular crowding solutions; up to 4-fold increase in the mRNA production was detected in the presence of 20% (w/v) of Ficoll-70. In contrast, translation was generally inhibited by the addition of each of the three crowding agents. This might be due to PEG-induced protein precipitation and non-specific binding of translation factors to Ficoll molecules. We further explored a two-stage CFPE in which transcription and translation was carried out under high then low macromolecular crowding conditions, respectively. It produced 2.2-fold higher protein yield than the coupled CFPE control. The macromolecular crowding effects on CFPE were subsequently confirmed by cell-free synthesis of an approximately two-fold larger protein, Firefly luciferase, under macromolecular crowding environments.
Three macromolecular crowding agents used in this research had opposite effects on transcription and translation. The results of this study should aid researchers in their choice of macromolecular crowding agents and shows that two-stage CFPE is more efficient than coupled CFPE.
Despite increased attention, little is known about how the crowded intracellular environment affects basic phenomena like protein diffusion. Here, we use NMR to quantify the rotational and translational diffusion of a 7.4-kDa test protein, chymotrypsin inhibitor 2 (CI2), in solutions of glycerol, synthetic polymers, proteins, and cell lysates. As expected, translational diffusion and rotational diffusion decrease with increasing viscosity. In glycerol, for example, the decrease follows the Stokes-Einstein and Stokes-Einstein-Debye laws. Synthetic polymers cause negative deviation from the Stokes Laws and affect translation more than rotation. Surprisingly, however, protein crowders have the opposite effect, causing positive deviation and reducing rotational diffusion more than translational diffusion. Indeed, bulk proteins severely attenuate the rotational diffusion of CI2 in crowded protein solutions. Similarly, CI2 diffusion in cell lysates is comparable to its diffusion in crowded protein solutions, supporting the biological relevance of the results. The rotational attenuation is independent of the size and total charge of the crowding protein, suggesting that the effect is general. The difference between the behavior of synthetic polymers and protein crowders suggests that synthetic polymers may not be suitable mimics of the intracellular environment. NMR relaxation data reveal that the source of the difference between synthetic polymers and proteins is the presence of weak interactions between the proteins and CI2. In summary, weak but non-specific, non-covalent chemical interactions between proteins appear to fundamentally impact protein diffusion in cells.
In-cell NMR; Macromolecular crowding; Protein diffusion; Weak interactions