Comprehensive structural and dynamical view of an unfolded protein from the combination of single-molecule FRET, NMR, and SAXS

Mikayel Aznauryan, Leonildo Delgado, Andrea Soranno, Daniel Nettels, Jie Rong Huang, Alexander M. Labhardt, Stephan Grzesiek, Benjamin Schuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

68 Scopus citations


The properties of unfolded proteins are essential both for the mechanisms of protein folding and for the function of the large group of intrinsically disordered proteins. However, the detailed structural and dynamical characterization of these highly dynamic and conformationally heterogeneous ensembles has remained challenging. Here we combine and compare three of the leading techniques for the investigation of unfolded proteins, NMR spectroscopy (NMR), smallangle X-ray scattering (SAXS), and single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), with the goal of quantitatively testing their consistency and complementarity and for obtaining a comprehensive view of the unfolded-state ensemble. Using unfolded ubiquitin as a test case, we find that its average dimensions derived from FRET and from structural ensembles calculated using the program X-PLOR-NIH based on NMR and SAXS restraints agree remarkably well; even the shapes of the underlying intramolecular distance distributions are in good agreement, attesting to the reliability of the approaches. The NMR-based results provide a highly sensitive way of quantifying residual structure in the unfolded state. FRETbased nanosecond fluorescence correlation spectroscopy allows long-range distances and chain dynamics to be probed in a time range inaccessible by NMR. The combined techniques thus provide a way of optimally using the complementarity of the available methods for a quantitative structural and dynamical description of unfolded proteins both at the global and the local level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E5389-E5398
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 13 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Förster resonance energy transfer
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance
  • Protein folding
  • Small-angle X-ray scattering
  • Unfolded protein ensemble

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