We report a fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) study of the assembly pathway of the AAA+ protein ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) activase (Rca), a ring-forming ATPase responsible for activation of inhibited Rubisco complexes for biological carbon fixation. A thermodynamic characterization of simultaneously populated oligomeric states appears critical in understanding Rca structure and function. Using cotton β-Rca, we demonstrate that apparent diffusion coefficients vary as a function of concentration, nucleotide, and cation. Using manual fitting procedures, we provide estimates for the equilibrium constants for the stepwise assembly and find that in the presence of ATPγS, the Kd for hexamerization is 10-fold lower than with ADP (∼0.1 vs ∼1 μM). Hexamer fractions peak at 30 μM and dominate at 8-70 μM Rca, where they comprise 60-80% of subunits with ATPγS, compared with just 30-40% with ADP. Dimer fractions peak at 1-4 μM Rca, where they comprise 15-18% with ATPγS and 26-28% with ADP. At 30 μM Rca, large aggregates begin to form that comprise ∼10% of total protein with ATPγS and ∼25% with ADP. FCS data collected on the catalytically impaired WalkerB-D173N variant in the presence of ATP provided strong support for these results. Titration with free magnesium ions lead to the disaggregation of larger complexes in favor of hexameric forms, suggesting that a second magnesium binding site with a Kd value of 1-3 mM mediates critical subunit contacts. We propose that closed-ring toroidal hexameric forms are stabilized by binding of Mg·ATP plus Mg2+, whereas Mg·ADP promotes continuous assembly to supramolecular aggregates such as spirals.
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