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Christopher Chouinard
Assistant Professor

Florida Institute of Technology



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The objective of this research was to investigate potential changes to unfolding energy barriers for ubiquitin in the presence of the noncanonical amino acid ?-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA). Although BMAA has been implicated in neurodegenerative disease, its specific role remains unclear. We hypothesized that formation of a ubiquitin + BMAA noncovalent complex would alter the protein’s unfolding dynamics in comparison with native ubiquitin alone or in noncovalent complexes with other amino acids. Ion mobility–mass spectrometry (IM-MS) revealed that at sufficiently high concentrations BMAA did in fact form a noncovalent complex with ubiquitin, and similar complexes were identified for a range of additional amino acids. Collision-induced unfolding (CIU) was used to interrogate the unfolding of native ubiquitin and these Ubq–amino acid complexes, showing a major transition from its compact native state (?1200 å2) to an unfolded state (?1400 å2) at activation energies in the range from 8.0 to 9.0 V (entrance grid delta). The Ubq–BMAA complex, on the other hand, was observed to have a significantly higher energy barrier to unfolding, requiring more than 10.5 V. This indicates that the complex remains more stable under native conditions and this may indicate that BMAA has attached to a critical binding location worthy of further study for its potential role in the onset of neurodegenerative disease.

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