Neutralization of a Distributed Coulombic Switch Precisely Tunes Reflectin Assembly

Robert Levenson, Colton Bracken, Cristian Sharma, Jerome Santos, Claire Arata, Phillip Kohl, Youli Li and Daniel E. Morse

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Nov 09, 2018
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Received Date: 22nd October 18

Reflectin proteins are widely distributed in reflective structures in cephalopods, but only in Loliginid squids are they and the sub-wavelength photonic structures they control dynamically tunable, driving changes in skin color for camouflage and communication. The reflectins are block copolymers with repeated canonical domains interspersed with cationic linkers. Neurotransmitter-activated signal transduction culminates in catalytic phosphorylation of the tunable reflectins’ cationic linkers, with the resulting charge-neutralization overcoming Coulombic repulsion to progressively allow condensation and concommitant assembly to form multimeric spheres of tunable size. Structural transitions of reflectins A1 and A2 were analyzed by dynamic light scattering, transmission electron microscopy, solution small angle x-ray scattering, circular dichroism, atomic force microscopy, and fluorimetry. We analyzed the assembly behavior of phospho-mimetic, deletion, and other mutants in conjunction with pH-titration as an in vitro surrogate of phosphorylation to discover a predictive relationship between the extent of neutralization of the protein’s net charge density and the size of resulting multimeric protein assemblies of narrow polydispersity. Comparison of mutants shows this sensitivity to neutralization resides in the linkers and is spatially distributed along the protein. These results are consistent with the behavior of a charge-stabilized colloidal system, while imaging of large particles, and analysis of sequence composition, suggest that assembly may proceed through a transient liquid-liquid phase separated intermediate. These results offer insights into the basis of reflectin-based tunable biophotonics and open new paths for the design of new reflectin mutants with tunable properties.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.


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