Ni, Q.Z., et al., Primary Transfer Step in the Light-Driven Ion Pump Bacteriorhodopsin: An Irreversible U-Turn Revealed by Dynamic Nuclear Polarization-Enhanced Magic Angle Spinning NMR. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018. 140(11): p. 4085-4091.
Despite much attention, the path of the highly consequential primary proton transfer in the light-driven ion pump bacteriorhodopsin (bR) remains mysterious. Here we use DNP-enhanced magic angle spinning (MAS) NMR to study critical elements of the active site just before the Schiff base (SB) deprotonates (in the L intermediate), immediately after the SB has deprotonated and Asp85 has become protonated (in the Mo intermediate), and just after the SB has reprotonated and Asp96 has deprotonated (in the N intermediate). An essential feature that made these experiments possible is the 75-fold signal enhancement through DNP. (15)N(SB)-(1)H correlations reveal that the newly deprotonated SB is accepting a hydrogen bond from an alcohol and (13)C-(13)C correlations show that Asp85 draws close to Thr89 before the primary proton transfer. Concurrently, (15)N-(13)C correlations between the SB and Asp85 show that helices C and G draw closer together just prior to the proton transfer and relax thereafter. Together, these results indicate that Thr89 serves to relay the SB proton to Asp85 and that creating this pathway involves rapprochement between the C and G helices as well as chromophore torsion.