Circular Dichroism (CD) relies on the differential absorption of left and right circularly polarised radiation by chromophores which either possess intrinsic chirality or are placed in chiral environments. Proteins possess a number of chromophores which can give rise to CD signals. In the far UV region (240-180 nm), which corresponds to peptide bond absorption, the CD spectrum can be analysed to give the content of regular secondary structural features such as a-helix and b-sheet. The CD spectrum in the near UV region (320-260 nm) reflects the environments of the aromatic amino acid side chains and thus gives information about the tertiary structure of the protein. Other non-protein chromophores such as flavin and haem moieties can give rise to CD signals which depend on the precise environment of the chromophore concerned. Because of its relatively modest resource demands, CD has been used extensively to give useful information about protein structure, the extent and rate of structural changes and ligand binding. In the protein design field, CD is used to assess the structure and stability of the designed protein fragments. Studies of protein folding make extensive use of CD to examine the folding pathway the technique has been especially important in characterising molten globule intermediates which may be involved in the folding process. CD is an extremely useful technique for assessing the structural integrity of membrane proteins during extraction and characterisation procedures. The interactions between chromophores can give rise to characteristic CD signals. This is well illustrated by the case of the light harvesting complex from photosynthetic bacteria, where the CD spectra can be analysed to indicate the extent of orbital overlap between the rings of bacteriochlorophyll molecules. It is therefore evident that CD is a versatile technique in structural biology, with an increasingly wide range of applications.
Keywords: circular dichroism, protein structure, chromophores, peptide bond, Aromatic amino acid, disulphide bond, flavins, phytosynthetic pigments
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