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Exciton coupling between two chromophores can produce a circular dichroism (CD) couplet that depends on their separation distance, among other factors. Therefore, exciton CD signals arising from aromatic sidechains, especially those of tryptophan (Trp), have been used in various protein conformational studies. However, the long-wavelength component of the commonly used CD couplet produced by a pair of Trp residues is typically located around 230 nm, thereby overlapping significantly with the protein backbone CD signal. This overlap often prevents a direct and quantitative assessment of the Trp CD couplet in question without further spectral analysis. Here, we show that this inconvenience can be alleviated by using a derivative of Trp, 5-cyanotryptophan (TrpCN), as the chromophore. Specifically, through studying a series of peptides that fold into either α-helical or ß-hairpin conformations, we demonstrate that in comparison with the Trp CD couplet, that arising from two TrpCN residues not only is significantly red-shifted but also becomes more intense due to the larger extinction coefficient of the underlying electronic transition. In addition, we show that a pair of p-cyanophenylalanines (PheCN) or a PheCN–TrpCN pair can also produce a distinct exciton CD couplet that can be useful in monitoring conformational changes in proteins.
Journal: Analytical Biochemistry - Volume 507, 15 August 2016, Pages 74–78