A dark state tertiary structure in the cytoplasmic domain of rhodopsin is presumed to be the key to the restriction of binding of transducin and rhodopsin kinase to rhodopsin. Upon light-activation, this tertiary structure undergoes a conformational change to form a new structure, which is recognized by the above proteins and signal transduction is initiated. In this and the following paper in this issue [Cai, K., Klein-Seetharaman, J., Altenbach, C., Hubbell, W. L., and Khorana, H. G. (2001) Biochemistry 40, 12479-12485], we probe the dark state cytoplasmic domain structure in rhodopsin by investigating proximity between amino acids in different regions of the cytoplasmic face. The approach uses engineered pairs of cysteines at predetermined positions, which are tested for spontaneous formation of disulfide bonds between them, indicative of proximity between the original amino acids. Focusing here on proximity between the native cysteine at position 316 and engineered cysteines at amino acid positions 55-75 in the cytoplasmic sequence connecting helices I-II, disulfide bond formation was studied under strictly defined conditions and plotted as a function of the position of the variable cysteines. An absolute maximum was observed for position 65 with two additional relative maxima for cysteines at positions 61 and 68. The observed disulfide bond formation rates correlate well with proximity of these residues found in the crystal structure of rhodopsin in the dark. Modeling of the engineered cysteines in the crystal structure indicates that small but significant motions are required for productive disulfide bond formation. During these motions, secondary structure elements are retained as indicated by the lack of disulfide bond formation in cysteines that do not face toward Cys316 in the crystal structure model. Such motions may be important in light-induced conformational changes.
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