Mature antibodies (Abs) that are exquisitely specific for virtually any foreign molecule may be produced by affinity maturation of naïve (or germline) Abs. However, the finite number of germline Abs available suggests that, in contrast to mature Abs, germline Abs must be broadly polyspecific so that they are able to recognize a wide range of ligands. Thus, affinity maturation must play a role in mediating Ab specificity. One biophysical property that distinguishes polyspecificity from specificity is protein flexibility; a flexible combining site is able to adopt different conformations that recognize different foreign molecules (or antigens), while a rigid combining site is locked into a conformation that is specific for a given antigen. Recent studies (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2007, 104, 8821-8826) have examined, at the atomic level, the structural properties that mediate changes in flexibility at four stages of affinity maturation in the 4-4-20 Ab. These studies employed molecular dynamics simulations to reveal a network of residue interactions that mediate the flexibility changes accompanying maturation. The flexibility of the Ab combining sites in these molecular systems was originally measured using three-pulse photon echo spectroscopy (3PEPS). The present investigation extends this work by providing a concrete link between structural properties of the Ab molecules and features of the spectroscopic measurements used to characterize their flexibility. Results obtained from the simulations are in good qualitative agreement with the experimental measurements and indicate that the spectroscopic signal is sensitive to protein dynamics distributed throughout the entire combining site. Thus, the simulations provide a molecular-level interpretation of the changes induced by affinity maturation of the Ab. The results suggest that 3PEPS spectroscopy in combination with molecular dynamics simulations can provide a detailed description of protein dynamics and, in this case, how it is evolved for biological function.
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