A bifunctional spin label reports the structural topology of phospholamban in magnetically-aligned bicelles

Jesse E. McCaffrey, Zachary M. James, Bengt Svensson, Benjamin P. Binder, David D. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We have applied a bifunctional spin label and EPR spectroscopy to determine membrane protein structural topology in magnetically-aligned bicelles, using monomeric phospholamban (PLB) as a model system. Bicelles are a powerful tool for studying membrane proteins by NMR and EPR spectroscopies, where magnetic alignment yields topological constraints by resolving the anisotropic spectral properties of nuclear and electron spins. However, EPR bicelle studies are often hindered by the rotational mobility of monofunctional Cys-linked spin labels, which obscures their orientation relative to the protein backbone. The rigid and stereospecific TOAC label provides high orientational sensitivity but must be introduced via solid-phase peptide synthesis, precluding its use in large proteins. Here we show that a bifunctional methanethiosulfonate spin label attaches rigidly and stereospecifically to Cys residues at i and i + 4 positions along PLB's transmembrane helix, thus providing orientational resolution similar to that of TOAC, while being applicable to larger membrane proteins for which synthesis is impractical. Computational modeling and comparison with NMR data shows that these EPR experiments provide accurate information about helix tilt relative to the membrane normal, thus establishing a robust method for determining structural topology in large membrane proteins with a substantial advantage in sensitivity over NMR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-56
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Magnetic Resonance
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by National Institutes of Health Grants GM27906 , AR057220 , and AR007612 . EPR experiments were performed at the Biophysical Technology Center, University of Minnesota. We thank Octavian Cornea for assistance with preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Bicelles
  • Bifunctional spin label
  • EPR
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Orientation
  • Phospholamban


Dive into the research topics of 'A bifunctional spin label reports the structural topology of phospholamban in magnetically-aligned bicelles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this