A method was developed to determine the interspin distances of two or more nitroxide spin labels attached to specific sites in proteins. This method was applied to different conformations of spin-labeled insulins. The electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) line broadening due to dipolar interaction is determined by fitting simulated EPR powder spectra to experimental data, measured at temperatures below 200 K to freeze the protein motion. The experimental spectra are composed of species with different relative nitroxide orientations and interspin distances because of the flexibility of the spin label side chain and the variety of conformational substates of proteins in frozen solution. Values for the average interspin distance and for the distance distribution width can be determined from the characteristics of the dipolar broadened line shape. The resulting interspin distances determined for crystallized insulins in the R6 and T6 structure agree nicely with structural data obtained by x-ray crystallography and by modeling of the spin-labeled samples. The EPR experiments reveal slight differences between crystal and frozen solution structures of the B-chain amino termini in the R6 and T6 states of hexameric insulins. The study of interspin distances between attached spin labels can be applied to obtain structural information on proteins under conditions where other methods like two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy or x-ray crystallography are not applicable.
PMID: 9414239, UI: 98075050