Forces guiding assembly of light-harvesting complex 2 in native membranes
Light-Harvesting Protein Complexes
Interaction forces of membrane protein subunits are of importance in their structure, assembly, membrane insertion, and function. In biological membranes, and in the photosynthetic apparatus as a paradigm, membrane proteins fulfill their function by ensemble actions integrating a tight assembly of several proteins. In the bacterial photosynthetic apparatus light-harvesting complexes 2 (LH2) transfer light energy to neighboring tightly associated core complexes, constituted of light-harvesting complexes 1 (LH1) and reaction centers (RC). While the architecture of the photosynthetic unit has been described, the forces and energies assuring the structural and functional integrity of LH2, the assembly of LH2 complexes, and how LH2 interact with the other proteins in the supramolecular architecture are still unknown. Here we investigate the molecular forces of the bacterial LH2 within the native photosynthetic membrane using atomic force microscopy single-molecule imaging and force measurement in combination. The binding between LH2 subunits is fairly weak, of the order of k(B)T, indicating the importance of LH2 ring architecture. In contrast LH2 subunits are solid with a free energy difference of 90 k(B)T between folded and unfolded states. Subunit α-helices unfold either in one-step, α- and β-polypeptides unfold together, or sequentially. The unfolding force of transmembrane helices is approximately 150 pN. In the two-step unfolding process, the β-polypeptide is stabilized by the molecular environment in the membrane. Hence, intermolecular forces influence the structural and functional integrity of LH2.