Water-soluble proteins encapsulated within reverse micelles may be studied under a variety of conditions, including low temperature and a wide range of buffer conditions. Direct high-resolution detection of information relating to protein folding intermediates and pathways can be monitored by low-temperature solution NMR. Ubiquitin encapsulated within AOT reverse micelles was studied using multidimensional multinuclear solution NMR to determine the relationship between protein structure, temperature, and ionic strength. Ubiquitin resonances were monitored by 15N HSQC NMR experiments at varying temperatures and salt concentrations. Our results indicate that the structure of the encapsulated protein at low temperature experiences perturbation arising from two major influences, which are reverse micelle-protein interactions and low-temperature effects (e.g., cold denaturation). These two effects are impossible to distinguish under conditions of low ionic strength. Elevated concentrations of nondenaturing salt solutions defeat the effects of reverse micelle-protein interactions and reveal low-temperature protein unfolding. High ionic strength shielding stabilizes the reverse micelle at low temperatures, which reduces the electrostatic interaction between the protein and reverse micelle surfaces, allowing the phenomenon of cold denaturation to be explored.
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