The interplay between transient α-helix formation and side chain rotamer distributions in disordered proteins probed by methyl chemical shifts



The peptide backbones of disordered proteins are routinely characterized by NMR with respect to transient structure and dynamics. Little experimental information is, however, available about the side chain conformations and how structure in the backbone affects the side chains. Methyl chemical shifts can in principle report the conformations of aliphatic side chains in disordered proteins and in order to examine this two model systems were chosen: the acid denatured state of acyl-CoA binding protein (ACBP) and the intrinsically disordered activation domain of the activator for thyroid hormone and retinoid receptors (ACTR). We find that small differences in the methyl carbon chemical shifts due to the γ-gauche effect may provide information about the side chain rotamer distributions. However, the effects of neighboring residues on the methyl group chemical shifts obscure the direct observation of γ-gauche effect. To overcome this, we reference the chemical shifts to those in a more disordered state resulting in residue specific random coil chemical shifts. The 13C secondary chemical shifts of the methyl groups of valine, leucine, and isoleucine show sequence specific effects, which allow a quantitative analysis of the ensemble of χ2-angles of especially leucine residues in disordered proteins. The changes in the rotamer distributions upon denaturation correlate to the changes upon helix induction by the co-solvent trifluoroethanol, suggesting that the side chain conformers are directly or indirectly related to formation of transient α-helices.