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


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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