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Monitoring Protein-Protein Interactions in the Cyanobacterial Circadian Clock in Real Time via Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy.


The cyanobacterial circadian clock in Synechococcus elongatus consists of three proteins, KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC. KaiA and KaiB rhythmically interact with KaiC to generate stable oscillations of KaiC phosphorylation with a period of 24 h. The observation of stable circadian oscillations when the three clock proteins are reconstituted and combined in vitro makes it an ideal system for understanding its underlying molecular mechanisms and circadian clocks in general. These oscillations were historically monitored in vitro by gel electrophoresis of reaction mixtures based on the differing electrophoretic mobilities between various phosphostates of KaiC. As the KaiC phospho-distribution represents only one facet of the oscillations, orthogonal tools are necessary to explore other interactions to generate a full description of the system. However, previous biochemical assays are discontinuous or qualitative. To circumvent these limitations, we developed a spin-labeled KaiB mutant that can differentiate KaiC-bound KaiB from free KaiB using continuous-wave electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy that is minimally sensitive to KaiA. Similar to wild-type (WT-KaiB), this labeled mutant, in combination with KaiA, sustains robust circadian rhythms of KaiC phosphorylation. This labeled mutant is hence a functional surrogate of WT-KaiB and thus participates in and reports on autonomous macroscopic circadian rhythms generated by mixtures that include KaiA, KaiC, and ATP. Quantitative kinetics could be extracted with improved precision and time resolution. We describe design principles, data analysis, and limitations of this quantitative binding assay and discuss future research necessary to overcome these challenges.

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