Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Label-free optical detection of single enzyme-reactant reactions and associated conformational changes

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Science Advances  29 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1603044
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603044


Monitoring the kinetics and conformational dynamics of single enzymes is crucial to better understand their biological functions because these motions and structural dynamics are usually unsynchronized among the molecules. However, detecting the enzyme-reactant interactions and associated conformational changes of the enzyme on a single-molecule basis remains as a challenge to established optical techniques because of the commonly required labeling of the reactants or the enzyme itself. The labeling process is usually nontrivial, and the labels themselves might skew the physical properties of the enzyme. We demonstrate an optical, label-free method capable of observing enzymatic interactions and associated conformational changes on a single-molecule level. We monitor polymerase/DNA interactions via the strong near-field enhancement provided by plasmonic nanorods resonantly coupled to whispering gallery modes in microcavities. Specifically, we use two different recognition schemes: one in which the kinetics of polymerase/DNA interactions are probed in the vicinity of DNA-functionalized nanorods, and the other in which these interactions are probed via the magnitude of conformational changes in the polymerase molecules immobilized on nanorods. In both approaches, we find that low and high polymerase activities can be clearly discerned through their characteristic signal amplitude and signal length distributions. Furthermore, the thermodynamic study of the monitored interactions suggests the occurrence of DNA polymerization. This work constitutes a proof-of-concept study of enzymatic activities using plasmonically enhanced microcavities and establishes an alternative and label-free method capable of investigating structural changes in single molecules.

  • single enzyme dynamics
  • single molecule reaction
  • conformational change
  • polymerase
  • protein-DNA interactions
  • optical microcavity
  • whispering Gallery mode

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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