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Conformational Properties of Cytochrome c in Apoptosis

Ekaterina Pletneva

1 Collaborator(s)

Funding source

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Defects in apoptotic mechanisms contribute to cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. The release of the heme protein cytochrome c (cyt c) from mitochondria to the cytosol is a key event in initiation of apoptosis. A sluggish peroxidase in its native state, when bound to cardiolipin (CL), cyt c catalyzes cardiolipin peroxidation, which, in turn, contributes to the outer membrane permeation and cyt c release. Modulation of the cyt c-CL interactions could be a valuable drug target for many human diseases but the rational design of such strategies depends first on understanding of the conformational properties of CL-bound cyt c. We hypothesize that CL-bound cyt c is a dynamic state consisting of diverse conformations. As such, the cyt c peroxidase activity may be more robust in certain conformations. Using a collection of site-specific photophysical probes, the proposed studies will elucidate conformational properties of the CL-bound cyt c, effects of physiological modulators of cyt c conformations and peroxidase activity, and also develop methods for assessing cyt c conformational dynamics in vivo. Measurements of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) kinetics in multiple fluorophore-labeled cyt c derivatives will yield structural information through estimates of the distributions of distances between a fluorescent donor (D) and acceptor (A). Analysis of the lifetime of the triplet state of Zn-substituted cyt c will probe the accessibility of the heme group. Coupled with computations, these experiments will provide a model of the heterogeneous CL-bound cyt c state. We will probe the effects of physiologically-relevant increase in ionic strength, ATP binding and CL peroxidation on the composition of the cyt c conformational ensemble and correlate populations changes with cyt c peroxidase activity. With a number of cyt c mutants, we will test and differentiate effects of protein stability and the strength of the Fe-Met80 bond on the nature of CL-bound cyt c conformational ensemble and associated peroxidase activity. These studies will determine which structural changes in cyt c are particularly important for its CL-induced peroxidase function. FRET experiments with fluorescently-labeled cyt c in live C. elegans will evaluate our structural and mechanistic model in vivo and illustrate how conformational dynamics influence cyt c apoptotic release. Not only will the proposed studies determine the conformational composition of the elusive CL-bound cyt c state but also shed light on the mechanism of the cyt c release and provide a foundation for the design of regulators of apoptosis.

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