Unfolding pathways of native bacteriorhodopsin depend on temperature

Harald Janovjak, Max Kessler, Dieter Oesterhelt, Hermann Gaub, Daniel J. Müller

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106 Citations (Scopus)


The combination of high-resolution atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging and single-molecule force-spectroscopy was employed to unfold single bacteriorhodopsins (BR) from native purple membrane patches at various physiologically relevant temperatures. The unfolding spectra reveal detailed insight into the stability of individual structural elements of BR against mechanical unfolding. Intermittent states in the unfolding process are associated with the stepwise unfolding of α-helices, whereas other states are associated with the unfolding of polypeptide loops connecting the α-helices. It was found that the unfolding forces of the secondary structures considerably decreased upon increasing the temperature from 8 to 52°C. Associated with this effect, the probability of individual unfolding pathways of BR was significantly influenced by the temperature. At lower temperatures, transmembrane α-helices and extracellular polypeptide loops exhibited sufficient stability to individually establish potential barriers against unfolding, whereas they predominantly unfolded collectively at elevated temperatures. This suggests that increasing the temperature decreases the mechanical stability of secondary structural elements and changes molecular interactions between secondary structures, thereby forcing them to act as grouped structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5220-5229
Number of pages10
JournalEMBO Journal
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Molecular interactions
  • Purple membrane
  • Secondary structure
  • Structural stability


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