To probe proximities between amino acids in the cytoplasmic domain by using mutants containing engineered cysteine pairs, three sets of rhodopsin mutants have been prepared. In the first two sets, a cysteine was placed, one at a time, at positions 311-314 in helix VIII, while the second cysteine was fixed at position 246 (set I) and at position 250 (set II) at the cytoplasmic end of helix VI. In the third set, one cysteine was fixed at position 65 while the second cysteine was varied between amino acid positions 306 and 321 located at the cytoplasmic end of helix VII and throughout in helix VIII. Rapid disulfide bond formation in the dark was found between the cysteine pairs in mutants A246C/Q312C,-A246C/K311C and in mutants H65C/C316, H65C/315C and H65C/312C. Disulfide bond formation at much lower rates was found in mutants A246C/F313C, V250C/Q312C, H65C/N310C, H65C/K311C, H65C/F313C, and H65C/R314C; the remaining mutants showed no significant disulfide bond formation. Comparisons of the results from disulfide bond formation in solution with the distances observed in the rhodopsin crystal structure showed that the rates of disulfide bond formation in most cases were consistent with the amino acid proximities as revealed in crystal structure. However, deviations were also found, in particular, in the set containing fixed cysteine at position Cys246 and cysteines at positions 311-314. The results implicate significant effects of structural dynamics on disulfide bond formation in solution.
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