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Conformational changes in biomolecules often take place on longer timescales than are easily accessible with unbiased molecular dynamics simulations, necessitating the use of enhanced sampling techniques, such as adaptive umbrella sampling. In this technique, the conformational free energy is calculated in terms of a designated set of reaction coordinates. At the same time, estimates of this free energy are subtracted from the potential energy in order to remove free energy barriers and cause conformational changes to take place more rapidly. This dissertation presents applications of adaptive umbrella sampling to a variety of biomolecular systems. The first study investigated the effects of glycosylation in GalNAc2-MM1, an analog of glycosylated macrophage activating factor. It was found that glycosylation destabilizes the protein by increasing the solvent exposure of hydrophobic residues. The second study examined the role of bound calcium ions in promoting the isomerization of a cis peptide bond in the collagen-binding domain of Clostridium histolyticum collagenase. This study determined that the bound calcium ions reduced the barrier to the isomerization of this peptide bond as well as stabilizing the cis conformation thermodynamically, and identified some of the reasons for this. The third study represents the application of GAMUS (Gaussian mixture adaptive umbrella sampling) to on the conformational dynamics of the fluorescent dye Cy3 attached to the 5' end of DNA, and made predictions concerning the affinity of Cy3 for different base pairs, which were subsequently verified experimentally. Finally, the adaptive umbrella sampling method is extended to make use of the roll angle between adjacent base pairs as a reaction coordinate in order to examine the bending both of free DNA and of DNA bound to the archaeal protein Sac7d. It is found that when DNA bends significantly, cations from the surrounding solution congregate on the concave side, which increases the flexibility of the DNA by screening the repulsion between phosphate backbones. The flexibility of DNA on short length scales is compared to the worm-like chain model, and the contribution of cooperativity in DNA bending to protein-DNA binding is assessed.
Studies have demonstrated that anthocyanins can function as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and improve dyslipidemia. Tart cherries are anthocyanin-rich, making them particularly attractive as a functional food to improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. There have been few published studies to date examining the impact of tart cherries on biomarkers of dyslipidemia and inflammation, particularly in overweight and obese individuals at high risk for these conditions. This study evaluated the effect of consuming 100% tart cherry juice daily on blood lipids including total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), calculated very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C), triglycerides (TG), high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and the CVD risk ratios, as well as the inflammatory biomarkers interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 10 (IL-10), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), C-reactive protein (CRP), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) following a 4-week period. Based on the high anthocyanin content of tart cherries, it was hypothesized that the lipid and inflammatory profiles would be significantly improved following the intervention. A total of 26 men and women completed this 4-week randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Participants were randomized to drink either 8 ounces of placebo beverage or tart cherry juice daily for 4 weeks. Following a 4-week washout period, the alternate beverage was consumed. Ultimately, this investigation demonstrated no statistically significant alterations in any of the lipid or inflammatory biomarkers when analyzed across time and between interventions (p > 0.05). As expected, glucose and insulin parameters remained stable over the duration of the study, as well as self-reported physical activity level, total calorie consumption, and macronutrient intake. However, trans-fat was reported to be significantly higher during the cherry arm of the study as compared to the placebo arm (p < 0.05), potentially confounding other results. Although the results of this study were equivocal, it is feasible that a higher dose, longer treatment duration, or more susceptible target population may be required to elicit significant effects. Consequently, further investigation is necessary to clarify this research.
A major goal of synthetic biology is to recapitulate emergent properties of life. Despite a significant body of work, a longstanding question that remains to be answered is how such a complex system arose? In this dissertation, synthetic nucleic acid molecules with alternative sugar-phosphate backbones were investigated as potential ancestors of DNA and RNA. Threose nucleic acid (TNA) is capable of forming stable helical structures with complementary strands of itself and RNA. This provides a plausible mechanism for genetic information transfer between TNA and RNA. Therefore TNA has been proposed as a potential RNA progenitor. Using molecular evolution, functional sequences were isolated from a pool of random TNA molecules. This implicates a possible chemical framework capable of crosstalk between TNA and RNA. Further, this shows that heredity and evolution are not limited to the natural genetic system based on ribofuranosyl nucleic acids. Another alternative genetic system, glycerol nucleic acid (GNA) undergoes intrasystem pairing with superior thermalstability compared to that of DNA. Inspired by this property, I demonstrated a minimal nanostructure composed of both left- and right-handed mirro image GNA. This work suggested that GNA could be useful as promising orthogonal material in structural DNA nanotechnology.
In an effort to begin validating the large number of discovered candidate biomarkers, proteomics is beginning to shift from shotgun proteomic experiments towards targeted proteomic approaches that provide solutions to automation and economic concerns. Such approaches to validate biomarkers necessitate the mass spectrometric analysis of hundreds to thousands of human samples. As this takes place, a serendipitous opportunity has become evident. By the virtue that as one narrows the focus towards "single" protein targets (instead of entire proteomes) using pan-antibody-based enrichment techniques, a discovery science has emerged, so to speak. This is due to the largely unknown context in which "single" proteins exist in blood (i.e. polymorphisms, transcript variants, and posttranslational modifications) and hence, targeted proteomics has applications for established biomarkers. Furthermore, besides protein heterogeneity accounting for interferences with conventional immunometric platforms, it is becoming evident that this formerly hidden dimension of structural information also contains rich-pathobiological information. Consequently, targeted proteomics studies that aim to ascertain a protein's genuine presentation within disease- stratified populations and serve as a stepping-stone within a biomarker translational pipeline are of clinical interest. Roughly 128 million Americans are pre-diabetic, diabetic, and/or have kidney disease and public and private spending for treating these diseases is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. In an effort to create new solutions for the early detection and management of these conditions, described herein is the design, development, and translation of mass spectrometric immunoassays targeted towards diabetes and kidney disease. Population proteomics experiments were performed for the following clinically relevant proteins: insulin, C-peptide, RANTES, and parathyroid hormone. At least thirty-eight protein isoforms were detected. Besides the numerous disease correlations confronted within the disease-stratified cohorts, certain isoforms also appeared to be causally related to the underlying pathophysiology and/or have therapeutic implications. Technical advancements include multiplexed isoform quantification as well a "dual- extraction" methodology for eliminating non-specific proteins while simultaneously validating isoforms. Industrial efforts towards widespread clinical adoption are also described. Consequently, this work lays a foundation for the translation of mass spectrometric immunoassays into the clinical arena and simultaneously presents the most recent advancements concerning the mass spectrometric immunoassay approach.
Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) is widely accepted as the world's most abundant enzyme and represents the primary entry point for inorganic carbon into the biosphere. Rubisco's slow carboxylation rate of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate (RuBP) and its susceptibility to inhibition has led some to term it the "bottle neck" of photosynthesis. In order to ensure that Rubisco remains uninhibited, plants require the catalytic chaperone Rubisco activase. Activase is a member of the AAA+ superfamily, ATPases associated with various cellular activities, and uses ATP hydrolysis as the driving force behind a conformational movement that returns activity to inhibited Rubisco active sites. A high resolution activase structure will be an essential tool for examining Rubisco/activase interactions as well as understanding the activase self-association phenomenon. Rubisco activase has long eluded crystallization, likely due to its infamous self-association (polydispersity). Therefore, a limited proteolysis approach was taken to identify soluble activase subdomains as potential crystallization targets. This process involves using proteolytic enzymes to cleave a protein into a few pieces and has previously proven successful in identifying crystallizable protein fragments. Limited proteolysis, utilizing two different proteolytic enzymes (alpha-chymotrypsin and trypsin), identified two tobacco activase products. The fragments that were identified appear to represent most of what is considered to be the AAA+ C-terminal all alpha-domain and some of the AAA+ N-terminal alpha beta alpha-domain. Identified fragments were cloned using the pET151/dTOPO. The project then moved towards cloning and recombinant protein expression in E. coli. NtAbeta(248-383) and NtAbeta(253-354) were successfully cloned, expressed, purified, and characterized through various biophysical techniques. A thermofluor assay of NtAbeta(248-383) revealed a melting temperature of about 30°C, indicating lower thermal stability compared with full-length activase at 43°C. Size exclusion chromatography suggested that NtAbeta(248-383) is monomeric. Circular dichroism was used to identify the secondary structure; a plurality of alpha-helices. NtAbeta(248-383) and NtAbeta(253-354) were subjected to crystallization trials.
V(D)J recombination is responsible for generating an enormous repertoire of immunoglobulins and T cell receptors, therefore it is a centerpiece to the formation of the adaptive immune system. The V(D)J recombination process proceeds through two steps, site-specific cleavage at RSS (Recombination Signal Sequence) site mediated by the RAG recombinase (RAG1/2) and the subsequent imprecise resolution of the DNA ends, which is carried out by the ubiquitous non-homologous end joining pathway (NHEJ). The V(D)J recombination reaction is obliged to be tightly controlled under all circumstances, as it involves generations of DNA double strand breaks, which are considered the most dangerous lesion to a cell. Multifaceted regulatory mechanisms have been evolved to create great diversity of the antigen receptor repertoire while ensuring genome stability. The RAG-mediated cleavage reaction is stringently regulated at both the pre-cleavage stage and the post-cleavage stage. Specifically, RAG1/2 first forms a pre-cleavage complex assembled at the boarder of RSS and coding flank, which ensures the appropriate DNA targeting. Subsequently, this complex initiates site-specific cleavage, generating two types of double stranded DNA breaks, hairpin-ended coding ends (HP-CEs) and blunt signal ends (SEs). After the cleavage, RAG1/2 proteins bind and retain the recombination ends to form post-cleavage complexes (PCC), which collaborates with the NHEJ machinery for appropriate transfer of recombination ends to NHEJ for proper end resolution. However, little is known about the molecular basis of this collaboration, partly attributed to the lack of sensitive assays to reveal the interaction of PCC with HP-CEs. Here, for the first time, by using two complementary fluorescence-based techniques, fluorescence anisotropy and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), I managed to monitor the RAG1/2-catalyzed cleavage reaction in real time, from the pre-cleavage to the post-cleavage stages. By examining the dynamic fluorescence changes during the RAG-mediated cleavage reactions, and by manipulating the reaction conditions, I was able to characterize some fundamental properties of RAG-DNA interactions before and after cleavage. Firstly, Mg2+, known as a physiological cofactor at the excision step, also promotes the HP-CEs retention in the RAG complex after cleavage. Secondly, the structure of pre-cleavage complex may affect the subsequent collaborations with NHEJ for end resolution. Thirdly, the non-core region of RAG2 may have differential influences on the PCC retention of HP-CEs and SEs. Furthermore, I also provide the first evidence of RAG1-mediated regulation of RAG2. Our study provides important insights into the multilayered regulatory mechanisms, in modulating recombination events in developing lymphocytes and paves the way for possible development of detection and diagnotic markers for defective recombination events that are often associated immunodeficiency and/or lymphoid malignancy.
The sun provides Earth with a virtually limitless source of energy capable of sustaining all of humanity's needs. Photosynthetic organisms have exploited this energy for eons. However, efficiently converting solar radiation into a readily available and easily transportable form is complex. New materials with optimized physical, electrochemical, and photophysical properties are at the forefront of organic solar energy conversion research. In the work presented herein, porphyrin and organometallic dyes with widely-varied properties were studied for solar energy applications. In one project, porphyrins and porphyrin-fullerene dyads with aniline-like features were polymerized via electrochemical methods into semiconductive thin films. These were shown to have high visible light absorption and stable physical and electrochemical properties. However, experimentation using porphyrin polymer films as both the light absorber and semiconductor in a photoelectrochemical cell showed relatively low efficiency of converting absorbed solar energy into electricity. In separate work, tetra-aryl porphyrin derivatives were examined in conjunction with wide-bandgap semiconductive oxides TiO2 and SnO2. Carboxylic acid-, phosphonic acid-, and silatrane-functionalized porphyrins were obtained or synthesized for attachment to the metal oxide species. Electrochemical, photophysical, photoelectrochemical, and surface stability studies of the porphyrins were performed for comparative purposes. The order of surface linkage stability on TiO2 in alkaline conditions, from most stable to least, was determined to be siloxane > phosphonate > carboxylate. Finally, porphyrin dimers fused via their meso and beta positions were synthesized using a chemical oxidative synthesis with a copper(II) oxidant. The molecules exhibit strong absorption in the visible and near-infrared spectral regions as well as interesting electrochemical properties suggesting possible applications in light harvesting and redox catalysis.
Recombinant protein expression is essential to biotechnology and molecular medicine, but facile methods for obtaining significant quantities of folded and functional protein in mammalian cell culture have been lacking. Here I describe a novel 37-nucleotide in vitro selected sequence that promotes unusually high transgene expression in a vaccinia driven cytoplasmic expression system. Vectors carrying this sequence in a monocistronic reporter plasmid produce >1,000-fold more protein than equivalent vectors with conventional vaccinia promoters. Initial mechanistic studies indicate that high protein expression results from dual activity that impacts both transcription and translation. I suggest that this motif represents a powerful new tool in vaccinia-based protein expression and vaccine development technology.
The green fluorescent protein (GFP)-like fluorescent proteins play an important role for the color of reef-building corals. Different colors of extant coral fluorescent proteins (FPs) have evolved from a green ancestral protein. Interestingly, green-to-red photoconversion FPs (Kaede-type Red FPs) are only found in clade D from Scleractinia (Faviina suborder). Therefore, I focus on the evolution of Kaede-type FPs from Faviina suborder ancestral FP. A total of 13 mutations have been identified previously that recapitulate the evolution of Kaede-type red FPs from the ancestral green FP. To examine the effect of each mutation, total ten reconstructed FPs were analyzed and six x-ray crystal structures were solved. These substitutions created a more hydrophilic environment around the carbonyl group of Phe61. Also, they increased the flexibility of the c-terminal chain, which keeps it from interacting with the entrance of the putative solvent channel. The photoconversion reaction shows a twophase kinetics. After the rapid initial phase, the overall reaction followed the firstorder kinetics. Based on the crystal structure analysis, I propose a new mechanism for Kaede-type FP photoconversion process, which a proton transfers via Gln38 to the carbonyl group of Phe61.
The elaborate signals of animals are often costly to produce and maintain, thus communicating reliable information about the quality of an individual to potential mates or competitors. The properties of the sensory systems that receive signals can drive the evolution of these signals and shape their form and function. However, relatively little is known about the ecological and physiological constraints that may influence the development and maintenance of sensory systems. In the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and many other bird species, carotenoid pigments are used to create colorful sexually selected displays, and their expression is limited by health and dietary access to carotenoids. Carotenoids also accumulate in the avian retina, protecting it from photodamage and tuning color vision. Analogous to plumage carotenoid accumulation, I hypothesized that avian vision is subject to environmental and physiological constraints imposed by the acquisition and allocation of carotenoids. To test this hypothesis, I carried out a series of field and captive studies of the house finch to assess natural variation in and correlates of retinal carotenoid accumulation and to experimentally investigate the effects of dietary carotenoid availability, immune activation, and light exposure on retinal carotenoid accumulation. Moreover, through dietary manipulations of retinal carotenoid accumulation, I tested the impacts of carotenoid accumulation on visually mediated foraging and mate choice behaviors. My results indicate that avian retinal carotenoid accumulation is variable and significantly influenced by dietary carotenoid availability and immune system activity. Behavioral studies suggest that retinal carotenoid accumulation influences visual foraging performance and mediates a trade-off between color discrimination and photoreceptor sensitivity under dim-light conditions. Retinal accumulation did not influence female choice for male carotenoid-based coloration, indicating that a direct link between retinal accumulation and sexual selection for coloration is unlikely. However, retinal carotenoid accumulation in males was positively correlated with their plumage coloration. Thus, carotenoid-mediated visual health and performance or may be part of the information encoded in sexually selected coloration.