Research Article

Retinal isomerization in bacteriorhodopsin captured by a femtosecond x-ray laser

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Science  14 Jun 2018:
eaat0094
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0094

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Abstract

Ultrafast isomerization of retinal is the primary step in photoresponsive biological functions including vision in humans and ion-transport across bacterial membranes. We studied the sub-picosecond structural dynamics of retinal isomerization in the light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin using an x-ray laser. A series of structural snapshots with near-atomic spatial and temporal resolution in the femtosecond regime show how the excited all-trans retinal samples conformational states within the protein binding pocket prior to passing through a twisted geometry and emerging in the 13-cis conformation. Our findings suggest ultrafast collective motions of aspartic acid residues and functional water molecules in the proximity of the retinal Schiff base as a key ingredient for this stereo-selective and efficient photochemical reaction.

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