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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

New insight into the dynamic properties and the active site architecture of H-Ras p21 revealed by X-ray crystallography at very high resolution

Björn U Klink13 and Axel J Scheidig12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biophysics, Division of Structural Biology, Saarland University, D-66421 Homburg/Saar, Germany

2 Zoological Institute, Department of Structural Biology, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, Am Botanischen Garten 1-9, D-24118 Kiel, Germany

3 Division of Structural Biology, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, Inhoffenstraße 7, D-38124 Braunschweig, Germany

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BMC Structural Biology 2010, 10:38  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-10-38

Published: 25 October 2010



In kinetic crystallography, the usually static method of X-ray diffraction is expanded to allow time-resolved analysis of conformational rearrangements in protein structures. To achieve this, reactions have to be triggered within the protein crystals of interest, and optical spectroscopy can be used to monitor the reaction state. For this approach, a modified form of H-Ras p21 was designed which allows reaction initiation and fluorescence readout of the initiated GTPase reaction within the crystalline state. Rearrangements within the crystallized protein due to the progressing reaction and associated heterogeneity in the protein conformations have to be considered in the subsequent refinement processes.


X-ray diffraction experiments on H-Ras p21 in different states along the reaction pathway provide detailed information about the kinetics and mechanism of the GTPase reaction. In addition, a very high data quality of up to 1.0 Å resolution allowed distinguishing two discrete subconformations of H-Ras p21, expanding the knowledge about the intrinsic flexibility of Ras-like proteins, which is important for their function. In a complex of H-Ras•GppNHp (guanosine-5'-(β,γ-imido)-triphosphate), a second Mg2+ ion was found to be coordinated to the γ-phosphate group of GppNHp, which positions the hydrolytically active water molecule very close to the attacked γ-phosphorous atom.


For the structural analysis of very high-resolution data we have used a new 'two-chain-isotropic-refinement' strategy. This refinement provides an alternative and easy to interpret strategy to reflect the conformational variability within crystal structures of biological macromolecules. The presented fluorescent form of H-Ras p21 will be advantageous for fluorescence studies on H-Ras p21 in which the use of fluorescent nucleotides is not feasible.