Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Streptavidin/biotin: Tethering geometry defines unbinding mechanics

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Science Advances  25 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 13, eaay5999
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5999

Abstract

Macromolecules tend to respond to applied forces in many different ways. Chemistry at high shear forces can be intriguing, with relatively soft bonds becoming very stiff in specific force-loading geometries. Largely used in bionanotechnology, an important case is the streptavidin (SA)/biotin interaction. Although SA’s four subunits have the same affinity, we find that the forces required to break the SA/biotin bond depend strongly on the attachment geometry. With AFM-based single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS), we measured unbinding forces of biotin from different SA subunits to range from 100 to more than 400 pN. Using a wide-sampling approach, we carried out hundreds of all-atom steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations for the entire system, including molecular linkers. Our strategy revealed the molecular mechanism that causes a fourfold difference in mechanical stability: Certain force-loading geometries induce conformational changes in SA’s binding pocket lowering the energy barrier, which biotin has to overcome to escape the pocket.

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