Glutamine Side Chain 13C═18O as a Nonperturbative IR Probe of Amyloid Fibril Hydration and Assembly

J Am Chem Soc. 2019 May 8;141(18):7320-7326. doi: 10.1021/jacs.9b00577. Epub 2019 Apr 24.


Infrared (IR) spectroscopy has provided considerable insight into the structures, dynamics, and formation mechanisms of amyloid fibrils. IR probes, such as main chain 13C═18O, have been widely employed to obtain site-specific structural information, yet only secondary structures and strand-to-strand arrangements can be probed. Very few nonperturbative IR probes are available to report on the side-chain conformation and environments, which are critical to determining sheet-to-sheet arrangements in steric zippers within amyloids. Polar residues, such as glutamine, contribute significantly to the stability of amyloids and thus are frequently found in core regions of amyloid peptides/proteins. Furthermore, polyglutamine (polyQ) repeats form toxic aggregates in several neurodegenerative diseases. Here we report the synthesis and application of a new nonperturbative IR probe-glutamine side chain 13C═18O. We use side chain 13C═18O labeling and isotope dilution to detect the presence of intermolecularly hydrogen-bonded arrays of glutamine side chains (Gln ladders) in amyloid-forming peptides. Moreover, the line width of the 13C═18O peak is highly sensitive to its local hydration environment. The IR data from side chain labeling allows us to unambiguously determine the sheet-to-sheet arrangement in a short amyloid-forming peptide, GNNQQNY, providing insight that was otherwise inaccessible through main chain labeling. With several different fibril samples, we also show the versatility of this IR probe in studying the structures and aggregation kinetics of amyloids. Finally, we demonstrate the capability of modeling amyloid structures with IR data using the integrative modeling platform (IMP) and the potential of integrating IR with other biophysical methods for more accurate structural modeling. Together, we believe that side chain 13C═18O will complement main chain isotope labeling in future IR studies of amyloids and integrative modeling using IR data will significantly expand the power of IR spectroscopy to elucidate amyloid assemblies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid / chemical synthesis*
  • Amyloid / chemistry
  • Glutamine / chemistry*
  • Isotope Labeling*
  • Molecular Probes / chemistry*
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared


  • Amyloid
  • Molecular Probes
  • Glutamine