pH dependence of amide chemical shifts in natively disordered polypeptides detects medium-range interactions with ionizable residues
A growing number of natively disordered proteins undergo a folding/binding process that is essential for their biological function. An interesting question is whether these proteins have incompletely solvated regions that drive the folding/binding process. Although the presence of predominantly hydrophobic buried regions can be easily ascertained by high-sensitivity differential scanning calorimetry analysis, the identification of those residues implicated in the burial requires NMR analysis. We have selected a partially solvated natively disordered fragment of Escherichia coli, thioredoxin, C37 (38-108), for full NMR spectral assignment. The secondary chemical shifts, temperature coefficients, and relaxation rates (R(1) and R(2)) of this fragment indicate the presence of a flexible backbone without a stable hydrogen bond network near neutral pH. (1)H-(15)N heteronuclear single quantum coherence analysis of the pH dependence of amide chemical shifts in fragment C37 within pH 2.0 and 7.0 suggests the presence of interactions between nonionizable residues and the carboxylate groups of four Asp and four Glu residues. The pH midpoints (pH(m)) of the amides in the ionizable residues (Asp or Glu) and, consequently, the shifts in the pH(m) (DeltapH(m)) of these residues with respect to model tetrapeptides, are sequence-dependent; and the nonionizable residues that show pH dependence cluster around the ionizable ones. The same pH dependence has been observed in two fragments: M37 (38-73) and C73 (74-108), ruling out the participation of long-range interactions. Our studies indicate the presence of a 15-residue pH-dependent segment with the highest density of ionizable sites in the disordered ensembles of fragments C37 and M37. The observed correlations between ionizable and nonionizable residues in this segment suggest the organization of the backbone and side chains through local and medium-range interactions up to nine residues apart, in contrast to only a few interactions in fragment C73. These results agree qualitatively with the predominantly hydrophobic buried surface detected only in fragments C37 and M37 by highly sensitive differential scanning calorimetry analysis. This work offers a sensitive and rapid new tool to obtain clues about local and nonlocal interactions between ionizable and nonionizable residues in the growing family of natively disordered small proteins with full NMR assignments.