Elongated Bacterial Pili as a Versatile Alignment Medium for NMR Spectroscopy

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2023 Sep 11;62(37):e202305120. doi: 10.1002/anie.202305120. Epub 2023 Jun 27.


In NMR spectroscopy, residual dipolar couplings (RDCs) have emerged as one of the most exquisite probes of biological structure and dynamics. The measurement of RDCs relies on the partial alignment of the molecule of interest, for example by using a liquid crystal as a solvent. Here, we establish bacterial type 1 pili as an alternative liquid-crystalline alignment medium for the measurement of RDCs. To achieve alignment at pilus concentrations that allow for efficient NMR sample preparation, we elongated wild-type pili by recombinant overproduction of the main structural pilus subunit. Building on the extraordinary stability of type 1 pili against spontaneous dissociation and unfolding, we show that the medium is compatible with challenging experimental conditions such as high temperature, the presence of detergents, organic solvents or very acidic pH, setting it apart from most established alignment media. Using human ubiquitin, HIV-1 TAR RNA and camphor as spectroscopic probes, we demonstrate the applicability of the medium for the determination of RDCs of proteins, nucleic acids and small molecules. Our results show that type 1 pili represent a very useful alternative to existing alignment media and may readily assist the characterization of molecular structure and dynamics by NMR.

Keywords: Alignment Medium; Liquid Crystals; NMR Spectroscopy; Residual Dipolar Couplings; Type 1 Pili.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fimbriae, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods
  • Proteins* / chemistry
  • Solvents
  • Ubiquitin / chemistry


  • Proteins
  • Solvents
  • Ubiquitin