The membrane-embedded protein rhodopsin is widely produced in organisms as a photoreceptor showing a variety of light-dependent biological functions. To investigate its molecular features, rhodopsin is often extracted from cellular membrane lipids by a suitable detergent as “micelles.” The extracted protein is purified by column chromatography and then is often reconstituted into “liposomes” by removal of the detergent. The styrene-maleic acid (“SMA”) copolymer spontaneously forms nanostructures containing lipids without detergent. In this study, we applied SMA to characterize two microbial rhodopsins, a thermally stable rhodopsin, Rubrobacter xylanophilus rhodopsin (RxR), and an unstable one, Halobacterium salinarum sensory rhodopsin I (HsSRI), and evaluated their physicochemical properties in SMA lipid particles compared with rhodopsins in micelles and in liposomes. Those two rhodopsins were produced in Escherichia coli cells and were successfully extracted from the membrane by the addition of SMA (5 w/v %) without losing their visible color. Analysis by dynamic light scattering revealed that RxR in SMA lipid particles (RxR-SMA) formed a discoidal structure with a diameter of 54 nm, which was 10 times smaller than RxR in phosphatidylcholine liposomes. The small particle size of RxR-SMA allowed us to obtain scattering-less visible spectra with a high signal-to-noise ratio similar to RxR in detergent micelles composed of n-dodecyl-β-D-maltoside. High-speed atomic force microscopy revealed that a single particle contained an average of 4.1 trimers of RxR (12.3 monomers). In addition, RxR-SMA showed a fast cyclic photoreaction (k = 13 s−1) comparable with RxR in phosphatidylcholine liposomes (17 s−1) but not to RxR in detergent micelles composed of n-dodecyl-β-D-maltoside (0.59 s−1). By taking advantage of SMA, we determined the dissociation constant (Kd) of chloride for HsSRI as 34 mM. From these results, we conclude that SMA is a useful molecule forming a membrane-mimicking assembly for microbial rhodopsins having the advantages of detergents and liposomes.
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