Role of active site conformational changes in photocycle activation of the AppA BLUF photoreceptor

Puja Goyal, Sharon Hammes-Schiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Blue light using flavin adenine dinucleotide (BLUF) proteins are essential for the light regulation of a variety of physiologically important processes and serve as a prototype for photoinduced proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET). Free-energy simulations elucidate the active site conformations in the AppA (activation of photopigment and puc expression) BLUF domain before and following photoexcitation. The free-energy profile for interconversion between conformations with either Trp104 or Met106 closer to the flavin, denoted Trpin/Metout and Trpout/Metin, reveals that both conformations are sampled on the ground state, with the former thermodynamically favorable by ∼3 kcal/mol. These results are consistent with the experimental observation of both conformations. To analyze the proton relay from Tyr21 to the flavin via Gln63, the free-energy profiles for Gln63 rotation were calculated on the ground state, the locally excited state of the flavin, and the charge-transfer state associated with electron transfer from Tyr21 to the flavin. For the Trpin/Metout conformation, the hydrogen-bonding pattern conducive to the proton relay is not thermodynamically favorable on the ground state but becomes more favorable, corresponding to approximately half of the configurations sampled, on the locally excited state. The calculated energy gaps between the locally excited and charge-transfer states suggest that electron transfer from Tyr21 to the flavin is more facile for configurations conducive to proton transfer. When the active site conformation is not conducive to PCET from Tyr21, Trp104 can directly compete with Tyr21 for electron transfer to the flavin through a nonproductive pathway, impeding the signaling efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1480-1485
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 14 2017


  • BLUF
  • Electron transfer
  • Hydrogen bonding
  • Photoreceptor
  • Proton transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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