Electrostatic fields at the functional interface of the protein Ral guanine nucleotide dissociation stimulator determined by vibrational Stark effect spectroscopy



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Noncovalent factors, such as shape complementarity and electrostatic driving forces, almost exclusively cause the affinity and specificity for which two or more biological macromolecules organize into a functioning complex. The human oncoprotein p21Ras (Ras) and a structurally identical but functionally distant analog, Rap1A (Rap), exhibit high selectivity and specificity when binding to downstream effector proteins that cannot be explained through structural analysis alone. Both Ras and Rap bind to Ral guanine nucleotide dissociation stimulator (RalGDS) with affinities that differ tenfold instigating diverse cellular functions; it is hypothesized that this specificity of RalGDS to discriminate between GTPases is largely electrostatic in nature. To investigate this hypothesis, electrostatic fields at the binding interface between mutants of RalGDS bound to Rap or Ras are measured using vibrational Stark effect (VSE) spectroscopy, in which spectral shifts of a probe oscillator’s energy is related directly to that probe’s local electrostatic environment and measured by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). After calibration, the probe is inserted into a known position in RalGDS where it becomes a highly local, sensitive, and directional reporter of fluctuations of the protein’s electrostatic field caused by structural or chemical perturbations of the protein. The thiocyanate (SCN) vibrational spectroscopic probe was systematically incorporated throughout the binding interface of RalGDS. Changes in the absorption energy of the thiocyanate probe upon binding were directly related to the change of the strength of the local electrostatic field in the immediate vicinity of the probe, thereby creating a comprehensive library of the binding interactions between Ras-RalGDS and Rap-RalGDS. The measured SCN absorption energy on the monomeric protein was compared with solvent-accessible surface area (SASA) calculations with the results highlighting the complex structural and electrostatic nature of protein-water interface. Additional SASA studies of the nine RalGDS mutants that bind to Ras or Rap verified that experimentally measured thiocyanate absorption energies are negatively correlated with exposure to water at the protein-water interface. By changing the solvent composition, we confirmed that the cyanocysteine residues that are more exposed to solvent experienced a large difference in absorption energy. These studies reinforce the hypothesis that differences in the electrostatic environment at the binding interfaces of Ras and Rap are responsible for discriminating binding partners.