A key event in light-driven proton pumping by bacteriorhodopsin is the formation of the L intermediate, whose transition to M is accompanied by the first proton transfer step, from the Schiff base to Asp85 on the extracellular side. Subsequent reprotonation of the Schiff base from the other side of the membrane to form the N intermediate is crucial for unidirectional proton transport. Previous FTIR studies have suggested that the intense water O-D stretching vibration bands which appear in L at 2589, 2605, and 2621 cm -1 are due to a cluster of polarized water molecules connecting the Schiff base to the Thr46-Asp96 region closer to the cytoplasmic surface. In the present study the difference spectrum was obtained of the N intermediate with its photoproduct N′, formed after irradiating N at 80 K. The water O-D stretching vibrations of N appear as a broad feature in a similar frequency region with a similar intensity to those of L. This feature is also affected by T46V like in L. However, the intensities of these water vibrations of N nearly returned to the initial unphotolyzed state upon formation of N′, unlike those of L which are preserved in L′. An exception was V49A, which preserved the intense water vibrations of N in N′. The results suggest that both L and N have a water cluster extending from the Schiff base to Thr46. The surrounding protein moiety stabilizes the water cluster in L, but in N it is stabilized mostly by interaction with the Schiff base.
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