Neutron spin echo studies on ferritin: free-particle diffusion and interacting solutions

Eur Biophys J. 2008 Jun;37(5):563-71. doi: 10.1007/s00249-008-0262-7. Epub 2008 Feb 13.


The dynamics of proteins are often studied by means of quasielastic neutron scattering (QENS), for example by time-of-flight methods. The spatial dimensions (10-20 nm) present in protein solutions are accessible by neutron scattering. In this article, a systematic study of diffusive dynamics of ferritin and apoferritin (=ferritin without iron core) is presented. Apoferritin consists of a spherical shell built of 24 protein units and carries net negative charge at pH 5. We have studied diffusive dynamics of ferritin solutions by neutron spin echo (NSE). We pay attention to an important feature of this technique compared to other QENS methods, which being the usage of a broad wavelength band. Using a more sophisticated fit function than usually used in NSE, we find as expected in low concentrated systems that the diffusion coefficient approaches the free-particle value of apoferritin and coincides with the diameter of the apoferritin shell (12.2 nm). In interacting solutions, the NSE results reveal that the dynamic picture of this complex liquid is dominated by slowing down of the dynamics. In low-salt solutions, a structure factor peak appears due to ordering of the ferritin molecules on the length scale of several intermolecular distances. We discuss the usage of different NSE fit functions for interacting solutions near the structure factor peak. Comparison of the dependence of elastic and dynamic data on the scattering vector value shows the influence of indirect interactions on the dynamic picture, irrespective of the way of data analysis, which being necessary due to the broad wavelength spectrum.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoferritins / metabolism
  • Diffusion
  • Ferritins / metabolism*
  • Neutron Diffraction*
  • Protein Binding
  • Solutions


  • Solutions
  • Ferritins
  • Apoferritins